On This Day in History, March 26: Writer for the Big Bands
Vic Schoen was born in Brooklyn on March 26, 1916. Music was his bag and he became a self-taught arranger. He began his career in the mid-1930s. His first hit was based on a German saying, “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen.” It proved to be a great hit when the Andrews Sisters recorded it.
Schoen worked for a number of singers and entertainers through the ’40s and ’50s, including Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby and another Brooklynite, Danny Kaye.
He arranged for many of the big dance bands of the era, including Glen Gray, Fred Waring, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and Count Basie. He led bands himself backing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters on their hit recordings of “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” “Don’t Fence Me In” and “South America, Take It Away.”
He wrote the title song for Danny Kaye’s movie The Court Jester, and he backed Kaye on his one and only recording made at Decca: “St. Louis Blues,” as well as on “Candy Kisses/Thank You.”
During this period Schoen married singer Marion Hutton (sister of Betty) and the couple moved to Los Angeles, where he continued to work for radio and recording studios.
In Hollywood, Schoen worked on several of the great Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour “Road” movies, including The Road to Morocco and The Road to Rio. For the Andrews Sisters movie Argentine Nights (1940), Schoen wrote “Hit the Road” but surprisingly not the other swinging hit in the film, “Brooklynonga.”
He and Hutton divorced and he married another popular singer, Kay Starr. He accompanied Maurice Chevalier on his first post-war tour of America and arranged and conducted acts for Court Basie, Dinah Shore, and the Weavers.
Schoen moved into television work in the 1950s, providing arrangements and sometimes conducting the stage bands for specials starring Pat Boone, Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman and Andy Williams. Vocalist Patti Page hosted a TV show “The Big Record” in 1957-’58. Top popular recording artists dropped in as guests. Vic Schoen’s orchestra was featured. In 1958 he backed Patti Page on her “Oldsmobile Show.”
When stereophonic recordings became the rage, Schoen and another bandleader, Les Brown, conceived of a composition “Stereophonic Suite for Two Bands.”
Schoen never fully retired from music. “His music would never leave him alone to do that,” remarked his third wife, Sally-Jan Calbeck Schoen. He was proud of his ability to work in a wide variety of styles and joked that he could “write big band falling out of bed.”
For many years, Schoen served as the musical director for Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters, an annual production in which famous works of art are recreated in live tableaux. In 1999, he reunited with Patti Page to record a CD for a Chinese label.
Vic Schoen died on Jan. 5, 2000, in Corona del Mar, California.
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