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Who Should Sing Ol' Man River?The Lives of an American Song$
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Todd Decker

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199389186

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199389186.001.0001

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Ol’ Man Easy Listening

Ol’ Man Easy Listening

(p.91) 5 Ol’ Man Easy Listening
Who Should Sing Ol' Man River?

Todd Decker

Oxford University Press

This chapter looks at approaches to “Ol’ Man River” that emphasized the beauty of the melody over the contentious content of the lyrics. The concept of “easy listening” is introduced and several groups of recordings of the song are put into historical context: elaborate instrumental versions appearing on 1950s and 1960s LPs designed to display hi-fidelity home stereo equipment; orchestral versions from the 1940s meant to elevate tunes from the Broadway stage into the category of concert music; and a rather unlikely cluster of laid-back recordings from the 1970s and 1980s by reggae musicians. White bandleader Fred Waring’s performances of the song on television and record are discussed in detail. Waring frequently used “Ol’ Man River” to feature the single African American performer in his otherwise all-white band and chorus: baritone Frank Davis sang “Ol’ Man River” many times in high profile settings in the 1950s.

Keywords:   Fred Waring, easy listening, reggae, hi-fidelity stereo equipment, interracial performance, segregation, television

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