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Cliff Edwards - Orange Blossom Time (1929)

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Published on Dec 4, 2010

Cliff Edwards (June 14,1895 - July 17,1971), known as "Ukelele Ike", was an American singer and voice actor who enjoyed considerable popularity in the 1920s and early 1930s. He had a number-one hit with "Singin' in the Rain" in 1929.

Edwards was born Clifton A. Edwards in Hannibal, Missouri. He left school at age 14 and soon moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he entertained as a singer in saloons. As many places had pianos in bad shape or none at all, Edwards taught himself to play ukulele (then often spelled "ukelele") to serve as his own accompanist (selecting that instrument as it was the cheapest in the music store). He got the nickname "Ukelele Ike" from a club owner who could not remember his name.

He got his first break in 1918 at the Arsonia Cafe in Chicago, Illinois, where he performed a tune called "Ja Da", written by the club's pianist, Bob Carleton. Edwards and Carleton made the tune a hit on the vaudeville circuit. Vaudeville headliner Joe Frisco hired Edwards as part of his act, which was featured at the Palace in New York City, the most prestigious theater in vaudeville, and then in the Ziegfeld Follies.

Edwards made his first phonograph records in 1919. He recorded early examples of jazz scat singing in 1922. The following year he signed a contract with Pathé Records. He became one of the most popular singers of the decade, and appeared in several Broadway shows. He recorded, in his distinctive style, many of the pop and novelty hits of the day, such as "California, Here I Come", "Hard Hearted Hannah", "Yes Sir, That's My Baby", and "I'll See You in My Dreams".

In 1925, his recording of "Paddlin' Madeleine Home" would reach number three on the pop charts. In 1928, his recording of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" was number one for one week on the U.S. pop singles chart. In 1929, his recording of "Singin' in the Rain" was number one for three weeks. Edwards's own compositions included "(I'm Cryin' 'Cause I Know I'm) Losing You", "You're So Cute (Mama O' Mine)", "Stack O' Lee", "Little Somebody of Mine", and "I Want to Call You 'Sweet Mama'". He also recorded a few "off-color" novelty numbers for under-the-counter sales, including "I'm a Bear in a Lady's Boudoir".

More than any other performer, Edwards was responsible for the soaring popularity of the ukulele in the 1920s. Millions of ukuleles were sold during the decade, and Tin Pan Alley publishers added ukulele chords to standard sheet music. Edwards always played American Martin ukuleles favoring the small soprano model in his early career. In his later years Edwards moved to the sweeter, large tenor ukulele more suited to crooning which was becoming popular in the 1930s.

Edwards' continued to record until shortly before his 1971 death. His last record album, Ukulele Ike, was released posthumously on the independent Glendale label. He reprised many of his 1920s hits, but his then failing health was evident in the recordings.

Like many vaudeville stars, Edwards was an early arrival on television. For the 1949 season, Edwards starred in The Cliff Edwards Show, a three-days-a-week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings) TV variety show on CBS. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he made a number of appearances on The Mickey Mouse Club, in addition to reprising his Jiminy Cricket voice for various Disney shorts.

Edwards married his first wife Gertrude Ryrholm in 1919 but they divorced in 1923. Edwards married his second wife Irene Wylie in 1923 but they divorced in 1931. In 1932 Edwards married his third and final wife actress Judith Barrett and they divorced in 1936.

Edwards was careless with the money he got in the boom years of the 1920s, always trying to sustain his expensive habits and lifestyle. While he continued working during the Great Depression, he would never again enjoy his former prosperity. Most of his income went to alimony for multiple former wives and for paying other debts. He declared bankruptcy four times during the 1930s and early 1940s.

Edwards suffered from alcoholism and drug addiction in his later years, living in a home for indigent actors. He often spent his days hanging around the Walt Disney Studios to be available any time he could get voice work, sometimes being taken to lunch by animators to whom he told stories of his days in vaudeville.

He had disappeared from the public eye at the time of his 1971 death as a charity patient at the Virgil Convalescent Hospital in Hollywood, California. His body was initially unclaimed and donated to the University of California, Los Angeles medical school.


Cliff Edwards - Orange Blossom Time (1929)

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