Baby Face Original

A 1920s Baby Face Original

In the 1920s, songwriter Harry Akst wrote the music for “Baby Face” and vaudeville performer and songwriter Benny Davis wrote the lyrics. They published the song in 1926. In 1958, Little Richard, one of the most influential people in popular music and culture for seven decades, released a rock ‘n’ roll version of “Baby Face” that became his highest charting single in the UK. However Jan Garber and his orchestra recorded the “Baby Face” original back in 1926. Since that time, the song has been a standard, with versions that range from vaudeville to disco, released by a variety of artists.

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Jan Garber

Known as “The Idol of the Airwaves”, American violinist and jazz bandleader Garber was born Jacob Charles Garber in 1894 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He played violin with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra then formed the Garber-Davis Orchestra with pianist Milton Davis in the 1920s. After parting with Davis, Garber formed his own orchestra, playing “sweet” and “hot” 1920s dance music.

Sweet bands evolved from the 1910s and 20s society orchestras. They played easily recognisable versions of hits-of-the-day for dances and debutante balls. Originating in New Orleans in the early 1900s, hot jazz was a blend of ragtime, blues and brass marching bands.

In the 1930s, Garber formed a big band and recorded a string of successful records for the label Victor. During World War II, he began to play swing jazz, but returned to “sweet” music after the War. Garber continued to lead ensembles until 1971.

Garber’s Baby Face Original

Garber released the “Baby Face” original in 1926. The song’s co-writer Davis sang vocals. “Baby Face” went on to become a number one hit for Garber.

To me, Garber’s “Baby Face” original has a mix of orchestral and ragtime sounds. The violins swing sweetly and I can easily picture someone tap-dancing along. Davis only starts swinging about halfway through the song. His vocals are old timey and croony sounding. It makes you feel romantic.

The Legacy of Little Richard

Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in 1932. Nicknamed “The Innovator, The Originator and The Architect of Rock and Roll”, Little Richard’s most celebrated work dates from the mid-50s.

His charismatic showmanship and dynamic music, characterized by frenetic piano playing, pounding back beat and raspy shouted vocals, laid the foundation for rock and roll.”

Wikipedia

Little Richard’s upbeat music style played a important role in the development of new music genres in the twentieth century, such as soul and funk.

Little Richard’s Baby Face

In July 1958, Little Richard released “Baby Face”. The track appeared on the album Little Richard, known as Volume 2 in the UK. This was a compilation album featuring many of Little Richard’s previously-released singles.

“Baby Face” peaked at number 12 on the American R&B chart and number 41 on the pop chart. In the UK, it reached number two in 1959, charting higher even that “Good Golly Miss Molly”, “Tutti Frutti” and “The Girl Can’t Help It”.

Little Richard’s two-minute version of “Baby Face” rocks along like a steam train. His singing is effortless but also gritty. Basically a bangin’ good tune you can’t help but love.

Other Versions

Besides Garber’s “Baby Face” original and Little Richard’s version, many more versions of the song were released, including:

  • 1926 – Ben Selvin & His Orchestra with vocals by the Cavaliers. “Whispering” Jack Smith. The Ipana Troubadours with vocals by Lewis James
  • 1933 – instrumental version for the film Baby Face starring Barbara Stanwyck
  • 1934 – Swan Districts, an Australian Rules club in the WAFL, based their club song on the tune
  • 1937 – featured in an Our Gang comedy short
  • 1943 – featured in a Tom & Jerry cartoon
  • 1944 – Tiny Hill & His Orchestra
  • 1946 – featured in the Al Jolson biopic The Jolson Story
  • 1948 – Jack Smith and the Clark Sisters. Sammy Kaye & His Orchestra (vocal with vocals by the Three Kaydets. Art Mooney & His Orchestra
  • 1958 – Mindy Carson
  • 1960 – The Crew Cuts
  • 1962 – Bobby Darin. This version reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100
  • 1967 – a refrain sung by Julie Andrews was mixed with the Hallelujah chorus in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Love this version! Jimmy Roselli
  • 1972 – The Kinks
  • 1974 – Paul McCartney and Wings in their television special, One Hand Clapping
  • 1975 – Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps

The Wing and a Prayer Fife and Drum Corps version of “Baby Face” was a disco crossover hit. I was intrigued by this one as I love a bit of disco, but found it quite bland-sounding.

Little Richard’s “Baby Face” is my favourite version of the song, but it’s interesting to see such a wide variety of versions being released. There’s probably around 98 recorded versions of “Baby Face”.

References
AllMusic - Sweet Bands
‘Baby Face’: A Hit For Little Richard, Bobby Darin And Many Other Faces
Everything You Never Knew About Hot Jazz
Wikipedia - Baby Face
Wikipedia - Jan Garber
Wikipedia - Little Richard
Wikipedia - Little Richard (album)
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