JANE MORGAN

Fascination

Juilliard-trained singer Jane Morgan reached the peak of her career in the late 1950s, when hits like "With Open Arms," "The Day the Rains Came" and signature song "Fascination" confirmed her reputation as a top nightclub act and television performer. Her parents provided an obvious influence (father Bertram Currier played cello for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and mother Olga was a classically-trained pianist). Jane, born Florence Catherine Currier on Christmas Day in 1924, studied piano per mom's example, but had switched to soprano singing before she entered her teens.

The family had moved from Newton, Massachusetts to Daytona Beach, Florida when she was four; her musical training commenced throughout high school and after graduation, in 1942, she enrolled at Juilliard in New York. Bandleader Art Mooney hired her as a singer in the mid-'40s, prior to his breakthrough as a top recording act; the Jane Morgan name was his idea. She abandoned her operatic dreams when Bernard Hilda, a popular French bandleader and gypsy violinist, caught her nightclub act in 1948. For the next few years she performed with Hilda at Paris nightspots like the Club des Champs-Elysées, appeared on French television and recorded with Hilda for the Polydor label in France and Columbia in the U.K. In 1953, Jane starred in a stage revue, Three Cheers, with British actor Vic Oliver, that was also filmed and aired on the BBC.

By 1951 she was back in New York and spent much of the next few years as a headliner in upscale venues like the Plaza Hotel and Lou Walters' Latin Quarter. Dave Kapp signed her to a contract with his Kapp label shortly after the company's inception in 1954. "Baseball, Baseball," a novelty tune about sports obsession, made for an atypical debut single, but the romantic subject matter that clearly suited her voice would soon be effectively utilized. In 1956, Kapp teamed her with The Jones Boys in a misguided attempt at rock and roll, "Let's Go Steady," her fifth failed single. Debut album The American Girl From Paris emphasized her international background. A June 1956 Billboard review was typically straightforward: "Miss Morgan, with a flawless accent, does some American ballads in French, as well as some French ballads in English."

Then Kapp matched her with pianist Roger Williams (a year after his chart-topping coup, "Autumn Leaves"). "Two Different Worlds," penned by Al Frisch and Sid Wayne, placed her on the charts for the first time and nearly made the top 40 in December '56, though Don Rondo (coincidentally also a native of Massachusetts) had a much bigger hit version. Several months later she covered Johnny Mathis's "It's Not For Me to Say" (an Al Stillman-Robert Allen song), underestimating just how much of a sensation Mathis would soon be. But luck was with her on the very next release.

"Fascination" was written by Italian composer Fermo Dante Marchetti under the title "Valse Tzigane," published in 1904 and performed over the years by many artists in several languages; English lyrics were added nearly two decades later by Dick Manning. Jane's recording credited a mysterious string quartet called The Troubadors (individual members weren't identified, even on their own albums, usually depicted only in silhouette...or not at all). The sound was old-fashioned by 1957 standards, but that didn't stop it from reaching the top ten that fall and ultimately selling a million copies. Its inclusion in the hit film Love in the Afternoon, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier (the latter two received Golden Globe nominations for their performances), certainly didn't hurt.

This business of selling records presented quite a challenge. More singles followed, with and without backing by the Troubadors, hit and mostly miss. One that did connect was "The Day the Rains Came," penned by Gilbert Becaud and lyricist Carl Sigman, issued with an English language version backed by a French version, "Le Jour Ou La Pluie Viendra" (lyrics by Becaud's regular collaborator Pierre Delanoe). Jane's rendition, with a big orchestra arrangement by Vic Schoen, spent most of October and November '58 in the U.S. top 30 and was a surprise number one hit in England in January 1959. She placed one more single in the top 40 that summer, the romantic ('I wait...') "With Open Arms" ('...down by the river where the boats come in...'), a great early hit by soon-to-be super-famous songwriters Hal David and Burt Bacharach.

Jane Morgan

Jane remained with Kapp until 1962. There were occasional minor hits ("Happy Anniversary," "Jerusalem"), she performed on the Oscar broadcast in April 1961 (singing "The Second Time Around" from Blake Edwards' comedy High Time) and gave acting a try on a 1961 episode of Peter Gunn starring Craig Stevens. She signed with Colpix Records and focused on film songs ("Bless 'Em All" from the 1963 Carl Foreman war movie The Victors and James Bond theme "From Russia With Love"). In 1965, 40-year-old Jane married 27-year-old TV producer (and later concert promoter) Jerry Weintraub, which coincided with her first appearance on Epic Records. The Middle-Road/Easy Listening radio format was gaining in popularity during this time and she scored several hits in the format over the next three years, starting with "Side by Side" in the fall of '65 (Kay Starr had made it popular 12 years earlier).

Morgan made a second appearance at the Academy Awards in April '66, singing "I Will Wait For You" (from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), accompanied on piano by the song's composer, Michel Legrand. A jazz-style cover of Bob Lind's hit "Elusive Butterfly" went top ten on the Easy Listening chart in October 1966. If all this wasn't enough, she starred in touring revivals of musical theatre productions (Can-Can, The King and I, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Hello, Dolly! and the list goes on), made frequent guest appearances on variety shows during the '60s (The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and many others) and showed up on at least one other TV drama (a 1970 episode of It Takes a Thief starring Robert Wagner).

There was continued "Easy" success on ABC Records in '67 and '68...and then she gave country music a spin at RCA Victor (motivated, perhaps, by Patti Page's recently successful foray). Some of the material was recorded at RCA's Nashville studio and two singles reached the country charts in 1970: "A Girl Named Johnny Cash" (a tongue-in-cheek answer to the Man in Black's mega-hit "A Boy Named Sue") and a Nat Stuckey tune, "The First Day." She continued singing full time until 1973 and has appeared occasionally throughout the decades at various events. Lately the lady born Florence Currier has been spending most of her time on a farm in Maine, but you won't find her in the cell phone directory under Morgan; Jane Weintraub decided back in the '70s she would at least hang on to her made-up first name.

- Michael Jack Kirby




MORE COOL 45s

Fascination Jane Morgan