The story of the country's most popular band
leader is truly an American success saga. While today his name is a national
by-word, just a few years ago Vaughn Monroe was an unknown factor in the
entertainment world, who had experienced a tough, discouraging struggle for
survival and recognition.
Vaughn was born in Akron, Ohio, on October 1,
(sic) (This should read 7. Italics mine.) 1911, the son of a rubber
experimental engineer. During his early years the family took up residence in
Kent, Ohio; Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio; Cudahy Wisconsin; and finally Jeannette,
Pennsylvania, as his father changed jobs in various rubber factories.
It was in Kent, at the age of eleven, that
Vaughn began his musical career when he came home from school one day carrying
a battered old trumpet. He explained to his puzzled parents that "The kid down
the street gave it to me on account of he just got a drum and likes it
Much to the chagrin of the household, young
Vaughn took up the instrument seriously and eventually became proficient
enough to win a statewide championship trumpet contest in Wisconsin at the age
of 14. The trumpet also served a more worthy purpose, for throughout his high
school days and for two years after graduation, he played with local bands
earning and saving money to help finance a college education. One such
aggregation was called Gibby Lockhard's Jazz Orchestra who appeared on stage
wearing white knickers and blazers with the monogram "GL" on them , and with
whom Vaughn was occasionally allowed to sing through a megaphone.
By this time Vaughn had developed quite a
reputation, for on graduating from Jeannette High School in 1929 he was voted
the "Boy Most Likely To Succeed." His high school sweetheart, Marion Baughman,
who later became Mrs. Monroe, thought he was rushing things a little when he
dashed breathlessly into the senior prom ballroom ten minutes late with the
startling news that he had just won another trumpet contest in a nearby town.
Up to this point, Vaughn's musical activities
had revolved almost exclusively around his trumpet. But in the back of his
mind what he really wanted to do was sing. He had done some vocal work with
the Jeannette Methodist Church Choir and had been encouraged to continue with
voice study. Therefore, several years later he enrolled in the School of Music
at Carnegie Tech during the day while working with the Lockhard group at
night. However, he was forced to give up his ambition of a concert stage
career when the grind became too grueling to continue. He left school at the
end of his sophomore year and took a job with Austin Wiley's band, and later
with a larger group led by Larry Funk. In addition to his musical chores, he
served as driver for the instrument truck and as treasurer for the band.
Vaughn took his boot training in one-nighters at this time, as the band toured
the country from Boston to Texas. "Every once in a while, when I think we have
it rough on our one-nighter junkets now," says Vaughn, "I think back and
In 1937 he left Funk and went to Boston to
accept a previous job offer from the late Jack Marshard, who had built a
reputation for himself in the east organizing and managing a group of society
orchestras. Vaughn began as a trumpet player, later did some vocalizing and
finally was promoted to leader of one of the units. Throughout this period, he
looked upon his band experience as only temporary, for he had enrolled in the
New England Conservatory of Music to continue his classical voice training.
However, other plans were in the making. It
was while Vaughn and the unit was playing a Florida hotel date that Jack
Marshard and Willard Alexander, former vice president in charge of bands for
the Music Corporation of America, who now has his own agency and is booking
manager for the band, met and discussed the possibilities of developing Vaughn
into a singing bandleader personality. Several hours later, the three signed a
contract and the present Monroe organization was born.
One of the first things Vaughn did following
the signing was to propose to Marion Baughman. They were married at once and
spent a one-day honeymoon traveling to Boston where the new band was to be
Almost immediately, Jack Marshard began
to put into action all the ideas he had for building Vaughn into a popular
singing star. He proceeded to eliminate the "classical sound" Vaughn had so
painstakingly learned by hiring a New York vocal coach, who worked with Monroe
for four months toning down his booming concert baritone to a more subdued,
mike-style voice. Vaughn claims this was one of the hardest jobs he has ever
taken on. "I got panicky when I realized all I had accomplished in the way of
singing was being thrown out the window." However, he stuck it out and the
band got underway, making its debut at Seiler's Ten Acres, in New England.
The year was 1940, and from then until
1945 things were touch and go. His weekly salary averaged $25 and Mrs. Monroe,
who suddenly found herself traveling with the band in the capacity of
bookkeeper and general assistant, began to feel that his earlier optimism was
a little premature, and that the high school prophecy of his success was not
exactly running true to form.
The band played its first big theatre date in June, 1941 at the Paramount
Theatre in New York, and a few months later landed an engagement at the
Commodore Hotel. It then embarked on its first string of one-nighters and
gradually began to attract some attention.
In the meantime, RCA-Victor signed the band to
a recording contract. But it was not until January, 1945 that the really first
big break came along when the recorded "THERE, I'VE SAID IT AGAIN." It was
made merely to fill space on the second side of a record that featured the
smash tune of the day, "Rum and Coca Cola." By one of those inexplicable
flukes that happen again and again in show business, the first side flopped
and "THERE, I'VE SAID IT AGAIN" became a national sensation, selling 1,250,000
copies. The band was in.
From this point on, record hits seemed to
follow at almost breath-taking pace--"LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW," "BALLERINA,"
COOL WATER," "RIDERS IN THE SKY," "SOMEDAY." As a result of this new
popularity on records, Camel Cigarettes signed Monroe for the Saturday night
CBS Caravan show which has never been interrupted to date.
Also as a result of his records, his western
tunes in particular, he was signed to star in his first picture, "Singing
Guns", which was produced at Republic Studios during the summer of 1949, and
which co-stars Walter Brennan, Ella Raines and Ward Bond.
Today, Monroe lives with his wife and two
daughters, Candace, 8 and Christina, 5 in a beautiful, Georgian-styled home in
the suburbs of Boston. In spite of his tremendous success as the leading
singing personality in the band business, he is happiest when he is at home,
surrounded by family, friends and hobbies. Of the latter, he enjoys building
model trains, photography, pipe collecting, flying and motorcycling. He is a
licensed pilot and owns his own Lockheed-12 plane, which he uses all the time
when he is on the road.
Other Monroe interests include The Meadows,
one of the most famous restaurants in New England, located in Framingham,
Mass., and a company called Stories for Young America, which produces
children's educational toys and songs.