Friday, August 23, 2019

THE WIZARD OF OZ BLOGATHON: Ken Darby, Orchestral and Vocal Arrangements


Rebecca Deniston at Taking Up Room is hosting a blogathon dedicated to all things related to L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, and the classic 1939 MGM film on August 23 - 25. Click 3 times to access the contributions: DAY ONE, DAY TWO, DAY THREE.

Ken Darby
May 13, 1909 - January 24, 1992

Composer, arranger, performer, choral director Ken Darby was an honoured member of his profession. He was awarded three Oscars, sharing with Alfred Newman for the scoring of The King and I, 1956, sharing with Andre Previn for the scoring of Porgy and Bess, 1959, and sharing with Alfred Newman for the scoring of Camelot, 1967. Other nominations were for South Pacific, 1958, Flower Drum Song, 1961, and How the West Was Won, 1962. He was awarded the Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album for Porgy and Bess and nominated for Best Soundtrack Album for Flower Drum Song.

The King's Men
Jon Dodson, Ken Darby, Rad Robinson, Bud Linn

The King's Men vocal group was formed in Hollywood in 1929 and enjoyed great success on radio and recordings, performing with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, and appearing in movies such as Alexander's Ragtime Band, 1938 as an Army quartet. The group appeared as cowboys in several Hopalong Cassidy movies, and in Stagecoach War, 1940 they even played a gang of singing outlaws.


THE WIZARD OF OZ

Charles Becker as the Munchkin Mayor
Singing voice by Ken Darby

Herbert Stothart hired Ken Darby for MGM and his first screen credit for Orchestral and Vocal Arrangements was for The Wizard of Oz. Along with the song arrangements, and working with Douglas Shearer to create the sound of the Munchkin characters, Ken and the King's Men also performed. Rad Robinson was the voice of coroner, Bud Linn and Jon Dodson voiced The Lollipop Guild, and Ken was "Hizzoner", the esteemed mayor of Munchkin Land.


The Wizard of Oz, 1939 was placed on the National Film Registry in 1989. The film won Oscars for Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg's Over the Rainbow and Herbert Stothart's original score. The movie also received nominations for Best Picture, Best Color Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Special Effects.



Hopping, skipping and jumping through Ken Darby's career we land on another childhood favourite, Disney's Make Mine Music, 1946. Ken's work is on display here as a songwriter (Casey at the Bat), choral director (Blue Bayou) and performer with The King's Men (The Martins and the Coys).

Much of Ken Darby's movie career would be spent at 20th Century Fox. Ken's songwriting credits were often uncredited by his choice or attributed to his wife of 60 years Vera Matson. Among these we find the songs in Rancho Notorious, 1952, the theme song to Vicki, 1953, the lyrics to A Little Girl from Little Rock in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, the songs in River of No Return, 1954, and your personal favourite that I neglected to mention.

Ken Darby, Elvis Presley

Ken and Elvis Presley wrote/adapted the tunes for the film Love Me Tender, 1956 including changing the ballad Aura Lee into the popular title tune.

Alfred Newman, Ken Darby

One of my favourite musical treats is the score to How the West Was Won for which Alfred Newman and Ken Darby were nominated for the Oscar for Best Music, Score - Substantially Original. Ken wrote the lyrics to How the West Was Won, Nine Hundred Miles from Home, On the Banks of the Sacramento, and music and lyrics for I'm Bound for the Promised Land. The Ken Darby Chorus is heard throughout the score, with Ken singing Shenandoah and When Johnny Comes Marching Home.


Ken Darby
Oscar night, 1968.


Bonus:


Like many of us, Ken Darby was a fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe. Unlike many of us, he wrote a book dedicated to the abode of the famous fictional detective. One day it will be on my bookshelf!


Fantasy:


The above photo is from my years in the first soprano section of the Etobicoke Centennial Choir. In my time machine fantasy, I am a much better sight-reader than ever I was, and I can roll my r's like nobody's business. I am also a member of the Ken Darby Chorus.
















17 comments:

  1. Having gotten a taste of choral music firsthand last year, as I told you all about, I can better appreciate a post like this now. I always thought the Munchkin voices were sped-up recordings of regular voices. Did Darby and company not do it that way?

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    1. I couldn't find any technical details when I was working on this piece. However, I think we're safe in our assumption about the different speed being to achieve the concept. It seems like the natural tone for Munchkins, but who knows what they went through before coming to that conclusion.

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  2. I looked up KEN DARBY on imdb. He worked on some BETTY GRABLE movies including MY BLUE HEAVEN and MEET ME AFTER THE SHOW. The last one had MACDONALD CAREY, who would later be on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and RORY CALHOUN, who would be on CAPITOL as the dad of CLARISSA (CONSTANCE TOWERS-later on she would be on GENERAL HOSPITAL). Also Ken worked on BUS STOP with MARILYN MONROE and DON MURRAY. Don turned 90 on July 31!

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    1. Yes, indeed, a lot of Ken's work was at 20th Century Fox and it is a small world indeed when you consider the performers he worked with and out connection to them.

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  3. You covered an aspect of The Wizard of Oz I think I have seen rarely covered before! I haven't read much about the orchestral and vocal arrangements for The Wizard of Oz. At any rate, Ken Darby had a fascinating career working on a diverse array of movies! I seem to recall he worked on The Flower Drum Song as well. Anyway, The Brownstone of Nero Wolfe is a must read for any Nero Wolfe fan (of which I am one)!

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    1. From now on I will not only admire Ken Darby's musical accomplishments when I see his name in the credits, he will always be "one of us", a Nero Wolfe fan.

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  4. JENNIFER HOLMES was 64 Friday August 23. She is probably best known for playing LESLIE the maid on the first season of NEWHART(1982-83). She was replaced by JULIA DUFFY as STEPHANIE, the cousin of Leslie. Jennifer was on two episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE starring ANGELA LANSBURY. Angela was in the movie THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948) as the queen. The king was played by.....FRANK MORGAN who was the wizard in THE WIZARD OF OZ!

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    1. Jennifer was fine on Newhart, but the show really went to another level when they brought the character of Stephanie on. In a perfect world, Julia Duffy would have a shelf full of Emmy Awards.

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  5. Incredible accomplishment of the week!

    You got through an entire post about Ken Darby without once mentioning The Life And Legend Of Wyatt Earp! (a cappella yet!)
    Darby and his singers (the erstwhile King's Men) also provided the TV themes for Jim Bowie and The Californians (which I remember to the present day).

    The Nero Wolfe book has been on my shelf for some years now; it was hard to track down, and pricey as all-get-out when I did - but it was very much worth the effort (and expense).

    In the meantime, why not drop by YouTube and check out Ken and the King's Men performing their immortal dramatization of "The Hut-Sut Song".
    It will make your day.

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    1. I shall certainly be checking out YouTube.

      Western fan that I am, i never grew up with The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Indeed, I only caught my first episode (on YouTube) within the last few weeks. Although, I do consider myself a huge Harry Warren fan and to discover he wrote that theme was very interesting. As long as it is going to be stuck in my head now, I'll be checking out that a cappella version.

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  6. Some celebrity weddings that took place in 1939-CLARK GABLE & CAROLE LOMBARD and ROBERT TAYLOR & BARBARA STANWYCK. GONE WITH THE WIND with GABLE came out later that year. Some actors that were born that year-LEE MAJORS who would work with STANWYCK on THE BIG VALLEY and is the ex-husband of FARRAH FAWCETT. DAVID BIRNEY who was on the shows BRIDGET LOVES BERNIE, SERPICO and ST. ELSEWHERE and was married to MEREDITH BAXTER(FAMILY TIES). PATRICK WAYNE who was in movies including SHENANDOAH with JIMMY STEWART and is the son of JOHN WAYNE.

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    1. There certainly are a lot of 80th anniversaries being celebrated this year.

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  7. I love how this blogathon allows us to go past the obvious and shine a light on people who worked behind the cameras in The Wizard of Oz - the film wouldn't be the same without any of those people! Nice to know more about Ken Darby.
    Kisses!

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    1. Thank you, so very much. So much talent went into creating the movie that we all love.

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  8. Wow, this was such a good idea, Paddy Lee. I really enjoyed learning about Ken Darby--it's a shame he's not talked about more. And I've heard the King's Men on Fibber McGee and Molly, so it's cool to find out more about him. Thanks again for joining the blogathon--this was awesome! :-)

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    1. Thank you.

      There are so many "Hollywood people" whose long ago careers continue to bring joy to our lives. It is a special legacy and in Ken Darby's place something that is all wrapped up in the land of Oz.

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  9. I remember when I bought the Oz soundtrack on CD, I kept seeing Darby's name much to my confusion. I think it might have been the first time I became aware that an arranger was an actual job. It's definitely something people like Darby and Kay Thompson don't get enough credit for, so it was great to read this!

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