The Milkmen’s Modernaires



The Modernaires – 1951

The Modernaires, over the years, certainly got a lot of air-play on WNEW.   Beginning in the 1930’s, the group recorded under different names with several orchestras, and were featured on three recorded versions of “The Milkman’s Matinee”  (two with Charlie Barnet and one with Les Brown) and two versions of the “Make Believe Ballroom” (Charlie Barnet and Glenn Miller.)  Here’s when and how they got to be the Matinee’s signature voices.

 On All Night

Stan Shaw

It doesn’t seem to be recorded anywhere what theme music was first used by the original WNEW Milkman, Stan Shaw, when he went on the air in 1935, (2:00 a.m.-7:00 a.m.) but within a few months he was opening with a Charlie Barnet original, “Milkman’s Matinee,” released in 1936, with the vocal by the Barnet Modern-Aires. 

Milkman’s Matinee – Charlie Barnet Orch. Modern-Aires-RCA Bluebird

Barnet wrote in his autobiography that he hired the singers away from the Ozzie Nelson Band when they were still a trio known as “The Wizards of Ozzie.”  Before that,  the group, with a fondness for puns, was known as “Don Juan, Two and Three,” and before that, when Harold Dickinson (lead and second tenor), Bill Conway (baritone) and Chuck Goldstein (tenor) were Buffalo high school buddies,  they called themselves “The Three Weary Willies.”  Ralph Brewster joined the group in 1937, and Paula Kelly in 1941.  By then, they’d been singing for a couple years, with the Glenn Miller band.

In 1937, Tommy Dorsey’s Clambake Seven came out with a new version of “Milkman’s Matinee with a vocal by Edith Wright, and featuring solos by Pee Wee Erwin and Johnny Mince.  

Tommy Dorsey Clambake Seven-MCA Coral Records

 Stan Shaw must have made good use of the Dorsey recording, because in 1939, Barnet was back with a new customized theme, “Stay Up Stan, The All-Night Record Man.”

Stay Up Stan, The All Night Record Man – Charlie Barnet Orch. Modern-Aires – Bluebird RCA

 When Art Ford took over the Matinee in 1942, he played the Charlie Barnet “Matinee” theme, but switched in 1944 to Woody Herman’s recording of “Milkman, Keep Those Bottle Quiet,” from the movie “Broadway Rhythm,” returning later to the Barnet recording.  When Ford left the show in 1954 to do daytime duty on WNEW and was succeeded overnight by Jack Lazare, the Matinee show had still another version of the theme music, this one by the Les Brown band, with vocal by the renamed Modernaires. When Al Jazzbeaux Collins played Milkman, during the 1970’s, the second recording he played every night,  right after the opening theme, in order to establish the show’s jazz credentials, was Count Basie’s “Blues In Hoss’ Flat.”  The Les Brown theme lasted through the remainder of the Matinee’s on-and-off-again life.  E.C.B.

2 thoughts on “The Milkmen’s Modernaires”

  1. The overnight Milkman had that great theme for years but the announcer, Dick Partridge, Bob Jones or whomever would fade it down at the instrumental part so to hear who was actually on the theme the listener had to wait to 5AM whwn often the whole tune ending as “the Modernaires are singin’ and Les Browns swingin on the Milkman…the Milkman’s Matinee.

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