The Cantorial Tradition In The Music Of Laurel and Hardy And "Our Gang?"

Visually, in one of Hal Roach’s Max Davidson shorts, maybe. That’s Max at left.

But ethnomusicologist Henry Sapoznik, of the nonprofit Living Traditions, which is releasing “Cantors, Klezmorim & Crooners 1905-1953” ($25, JSP Records/Living Traditions) says that devotees of LeRoy Shield’s later film music (including the wonderful background music heard in the 1930’s Hal Roach shorts) can trace Shield’s musical thematic development in his earlier work as a conductor/arranger for Jewish recordings (among others) at Victor. On the the CD, which will be released to mark KlezKamp’s 25th anniversary and a festival of Yiddish music and art set for December 23-29, there’s a track that features Yiddish Theater singer Ellie Casman backed by LeRoy Shield’s RCA band.

Sapoznik, a five-time Grammy winner for early folk and country music productions, who also received a Peabody Award for his “Yiddish Radio Project,” was misquoted and misinterpreted in a poorly edited interview that popped up on the ‘net and raised a few eyebrows among Shield admirers (and this post has been revised to reflect the proper context for his remarks).

The raised eyebrows had to do with the fact that Shield was Irish. Which is not to say he didn’t want to be perceived as Jewish… in fact, the reverse is true. Steve Cloutier, who runs the Leroy Shield website learned that “…Leroy changed his name from “Shields” to “Shield” [because he thought it] would be advantageous in Hollywood if his name sounded more Jewish than Irish.” Shield/Shields changed the name quite a bit – Roy Shield was yet another variation he used.

Sapoznik suggests Shield’s early work, including the Yiddish recordings for RCA, were an influence Shield brought to [the Hal Roach] movies. Sapoznik observed, “The cantorial tradition,” so central to Yiddish recordings, “was the key DNA of Eastern European Jewish music. Everything — klezmer, Yiddish theater, folk songs — that’s what links them all together.”

He makes a point. It would be great fun to hear more of Shield’s early work. Maybe we can convince a klezmer band to cover the Hal Roach tunes, but in the meantime, I’m going to check out the “C,K, and C” CD asap.

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The Beau Hunks In Rehearsal

For many years, when blowing out birthday candles or on other occasions that gave me a free wish, I wished that someone, somewhere, would re-record all of the wonderful LeRoy Shield tunes heard as background music in the Laurel and Hardy, Our Gang, and Charley Chase Hal Roach Shorts. I don’t know which wish-making opportunity yielded the results: the incredibly wonderful recordings by The Beau Hunks Orchestra.

I still have birthdays, so I’ve switched over to the next impossible dream – seeing The Beau Hunks at a live performance.

I’ve talked to Piet Schreuders and Gert-Jan Blom about playing here in the U.S., and the financial implications of a tour are staggering. Not out of the question; just staggering.

Perhaps inspired by the concept behind stem cell research, Piet Schreuders informs me that there may be a solution that allows the sound and spirit of The Beau Hunks to travel. According to Piet, the formula is that the “…Beau Hunks ‘inject’ a few key members into existing local orchestras, bring their charts, rehearse for three days, and bingo, a good time is had by all. This opens up new possibilities — for instance, a performance on Roy Shield’s birthday in Waseca, Minnesota someday!”

Sounds great to me, as does the recent rehearsal above. According to Piet: “The Beau Hunks orchestra and the German Filmorchester Babelsberg recently combined to give a performance of Leroy Shield’s music and to accompany two silent Laurel & Hardy films. The performance was in Potsdam, near Berlin, Germany, on August 24, 2007. This clip shows a rehearsal of the tune “Let’s Face It” the day before, conducted by Scott Lawton. Beau Hunks leader Gert-Jan Blom watches from the front row.”

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If Hal Roach Had Made Newsreels

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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Roy Shield and Company – Saturday Night Live on NBC

You may not recognize “Moonlight on the Ganges,” but you are sure to recognize the theme for NBC Radio Network’s “Roy Shield and Company.” (30m) Roy Shield (sometimes LeRoy Shield) wrote all the great music for the Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase, and Our Gang comdies from the 30’s. You’ll most likely recognize Roy’s theme song as the “Oh, Miss Crabtree” music from Our Gang short “Love Business,” but it has appeared in countless Hal Roach Films. Its title is actually “You Are The One I Love,” (2m) and the only reason I know this is because of the fabulous Beau Hunks CD’s with inflection-perfect recreations of the (now lost) originals. On Roy’s show, you’ll hear Eve Young sing “I Should Care.” Roy and his orchestra also play “Violets for Your Furs,” a song I know only because Frank Sinatra recorded it. Nelson Olmstead narrates a version of Poe’s “The Raven” which proves that every era has its William Shatner. A selection of programs with orchestral backgrounds by Shield can be found here.

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