Social History – Wonderful video celebrating Tucker’s 100 Birthday on Youtube.

Orrin Tucker dies at 100; bandleader owned L.A.’s Stardust Ballroom; he was one of the last big-band dance orchestra leaders.

The orchestra’s 1939 rendition of ‘Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!’ with Bonnie Baker on vocals was a national hit. In 1975 he turned a Sunset Boulevard skating rink into the Stardust, which closed in 1982.

Orrin Tucker, a bandleader whose orchestra achieved national prominence with a 1939 recording of “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!” and who decades later owned a big-band venue on Sunset Boulevard, has died. He was 100.

Orrin’s life is covered in this excellent video.

Tucker, who was a longtime resident of South Pasadena, died April 9 in the San Gabriel Valley, said his daughter, Nora Compere.

After forming the band in 1933, Tucker was its primary vocalist until jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong suggested that a petite singer named Evelyn Nelson would be a good fit for the group, according to biographical references.

When Tucker met her in 1938, he said, “Would you mind if I change your name to the ‘shy voice of Wee Bonnie Baker’? She said that would be fine,” Tucker later recalled.

Rummaging through old sheet music, he found a copy of “Oh Johnny,” a hit song from 1917, and decided to record it with Baker.

“So melting and cajoling were diminutive Bonnie’s ‘Oh’s’ ” that the record “was soon jerking juke-box nickels faster than the fading ‘Beer Barrel Polka,’ ” Time magazine said in early 1940.

World War II interrupted Tucker’s big band career, and he served as a Navy pilot instructor from 1942 to 1945. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor.

With a new band after the war, he played major U.S. hotels and clubs.

(Bonnie Baker and Orrin Tucker; Tucker’s orchestra at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles)

The band’s theme song was a Tucker favorite: “Drifting and Dreaming.”

Tucker would end up making more than 70 records, including six that sold more than a million copies apiece, according to the All Music online database.

After playing himself in the 1975 TV movie “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom,” Tucker leased a skating rink that same year on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and turned it into the Stardust Ballroom.

His orchestra was the star attraction, but economics made him realize that ballroom dancing had “a dwindling popularity,” he told The Times in 1981.

On weekends, patrons would swing and samba, but many nights Tucker would rent out the space for roller skating or other functions such as women’s boxing.

In 1982, he closed the ballroom and moved to Palm Springs, where he sold real estate. He performed into the 1990s and last appeared on a cruise ship.

He was born Robert Orrin Tucker on Feb. 17, 1911, in St. Louis, and grew up in Wheaton, Ill.

As a boy, he became fascinated by a saxophone in a Sears Roebuck catalog and taught himself to play one.

A pre-med student, he attended Northwestern University and North Central College in Illinois. While in college, Tucker formed his first band and soon turned his hobby into a career.

“He had good genes and a good outlook on life,” said his daughter, who joked that ice cream may have been his secret to longevity. He ate it every day and preferred vanilla with chocolate syrup.

Besides his daughter, Nora, of South Pasadena, Tucker is survived by Aline Cameron Tucker, whom he married in 1975, and a grandson.


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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