Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians- a guest review by Keith Mecklem

“Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians” by Virginia Waring taught me a lot about a man who did far more than lead an entertainment group of singers and musicians. I was somewhat familiar with Waring from growing up in Pennsylvania while Waring continued to tour. To my young eyes, he was another big band era, Lawrence Welk type of entertainer who attracted the same older crowd. I since have learned that Lawrence Welk was the follower; Waring was the original and best.

Waring invented a music system for singers to enunciate words perfectly. The Pennsylvanians, the book says, could be understood perfectly in every song. One humorous story relates how a fan told Waring they enjoyed a new group because it reminded the fan of Waring’s group. His reply, “But did you understand what they were saying?” The fan admitted he did not. Waring’s system was passed on through schools and colleges, but never with the perfection the Pennsylvanians carried it out.
Waring was the first to be famous for directing a choral group, then, later was the first to direct a regular group of singers and musicians. In fact, his musicians were often the singers.

Waring started Shawnee Press, a music publishing company, so he could control his own output and reap the financial rewards. He risked his own fortune and reputation in his efforts to get music arrangers royalties, arguing that the songwriter may have written a piece of music; but the arrangers turn it into a hit. Waring even stood up to unions. He already paid more than union scale for his performers.

Waring bought a new invention that later became the Waring Blender. The inventor died shortly after selling Waring on the idea. He paid royalties to the inventor’s widows for decades, even though he legally did not have to pay anything.
The book covers the joy and trials of a large group of performers who were together so much practicing, traveling, and performing it was like a large family. They all had marital problems because of the lifestyle, including Waring. Waring and his brother, Tom, had vicious fights about the group’s direction and had to part ways. Yet, everyone supported each other.

“Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians” was a fun book to read, full of funny and tragic stories. Packed with details of how the Pennsylvanians were trained to perfection. Full of back-stage drama and big star visits — a fun book to read.

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