Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Recently I was asked about a tune that came out around the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. The title is apparently “Gloomy Sunday.”

Though I am a WW2 vet, I cannot recall or supply any information about this song. Please help me out!
— Jerome Pariseau, Lakeland, Fla.

DEAR JEROME: It is no doubt the baffling background and curious connection to numerous suicides that prompted the question about “Gloomy Sunday.”

Originally written in 1933 by Hungarian composer-pianist, Rezso Seress, not until 1936 did “Gloomy Sunday” became a pop hit in the US. That recording, by Hal Kemp and His Orchestra featuring Bob Allen (Brunswick 7630), made the Top 5 early that summer.

The Pearl Harbor tie-in you mention is surely based on Billie Holiday's remake (Okeh 6451), which came out at exactly the same time as the world stood stunned by the events in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.

It is an eerie coincidence that the Japanese attacks, which President Roosevelt aptly described as “a day of infamy,” took place on a Sunday. Probably the gloomiest Sunday in our nation's history.

Though Billie Holiday's poignant recording did not become a hit at the time, it is now the first version most people think of when “Gloomy Sunday” is mentioned.

Among the many other stars to record this tune are Ray Charles, Sinead O'Connor, Ketty Lester, Jimmy Smith, Etta Jones, Billy Eckstine, and even Ricky Nelson.

In the mid-'30s, “Gloomy Sunday” became known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song.” It seems a number of people, most of which would likely have taken their own lives regardless, left behind lyrical references to the song.

Opting to err on the side of caution, just the possibility anyone could be motivated by a song to jump off a bridge caused many broadcasters to ban “Gloomy Sunday” from their play lists.

The lyrics to “Gloomy Sunday” even inspired the 1999 German-made film of the same title.

DEAR JERRY: I have several questions about Wilbur Harrison:

Did he have any other hits besides “Kansas City”?

When did he record “Kansas City”?

Is he still alive? If so, how old is he now?
—Chystel Swarr, York, Pa.

DEAR CHYSTEL: In the same order as asked, here is everything you ever wanted to know about Wilbert (not Wilbur) Harrison:

After his smash, “Kansas City,” a No. 1 hit, Harrison registered two more chart hits: “Let's Work Together” (1969) and “My Heart Is Yours” (1971).

“Kansas City” came out in March 1959, so he probably recorded it in either February or March.

Wilbert died of a stroke on October 26, 1994, at age 65. At the time he lived in Spencer, North Carolina, a mere 35 miles northeast of Charlotte, the city of his birth.

DEAR JERRY: In a new TV commercial, I hear Frankie Valli singing “1-2-3, it's like taking candy from a baby.”

What is the correct title of this tune, and who first made it popular.
—John Witkowski, South New Berlin, N.Y.

DEAR JOHN: This summer '65 hit with the numerical title “1-2-3” is by Len Barry. By far the biggest solo hit ever for Barry, previously the lead singer of the Dovells, “1-2-3” peaked at No. 2 nationally.

I rarely tolerate commercials (thank you Mr. Mute), and do not know of this one. I do tend to think the singer you hear is someone other than Frankie Valli.

My instinct is wrong, of course, if Valli is seen or mentioned during that TV spot.

IZ ZAT SO? As for “Gloomy Sunday” becoming known as the Hungarian Suicide Song, the ultimate irony is that Rezso Seress, the song's creator 35 years earlier, jumped from a Budapest building to his death in 1968.

Rezso's leap ranks as one of the most well-known Hungarian suicides.

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