Val Rosing (1910 - 1969)
Val Rosing may be forever best-known as the vocalist on the BBC’s original
recording of the classic children’s song, Teddy Bears' Picnic. But
Rosing was one of England’s most prolific vocalists of the 1930s Dance
Hall era and recorded more than 100 songs with many of Britain’s
top orchestras, including the Henry Hall BBC Orchestra, Ray Noble’s New
Mayfair Dance Orchestra, Jack Payne’s BBC Dance Orchestra, Spike Hughes
and His Decca-Dents, Jay Wilbur’s band and Rosing’s own swing combos, the
Radio Rhythm Rascals and the Swing Stars. Rosing was the vocalist on many
other signature recordings by the Henry Hall Orchestra including Help
Yourself to Happiness, The Sun Has Got His Hat On and Here’s to
The Next Time. Another
notable first, Rosing sang on the original version of “Try a Little Tenderness,”
recorded by the Ray Noble Orchestra more than a year before Bing Crosby
covered it and a full three decades before Otis Redding's landmark recording.
Billed by his record label as “England’s supreme singer of sentimental songs,” Rosing crooned his share of the romantic ballads of the day. He could also let loose on uptempo depression-period numbers, or scat along with swing versions of standards like Sweet Sue and Dinah.
In 1937, Rosing was brought to the US by Louis B. Mayer, who changed his name to Gilbert Russell with the aim of making Rosing the “English Bing Crosby.” The English music trade paper, Melody Maker, carried the following account of Rosing's discovery by MGM.
"The Roaring Lion, symbol of star-maker Louis B. Mayer, head of the vast Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Film Corporation, has been prowling the entertainment circles of Great Britain, smelling out likeley candidates for seasoning and garnishing in the famous M.G.M star nursery in Hollywood.
Among Elstree's unconsidered trifles eagerly snalled up by the discerning lion is the British crooner who, for many years has been knocking hard at the door of fame.
This is Val Rosing, one time vocalist with the Henry Hall Orchestra nd the BBC Dance Orchestra, but now under contract which promises him a dizzy pinnacle of fame and fortune."
Val Rosing on YouTube
There are three known videos of Val performing live on YouTube. The rare video below shows Val singing "Leaning On A Lamp Post" from the 1937 British Film "Feather Your Nest." There is also a clip of Val singing with Henry Hall and his orchestra. Make sure to check out the xylophone solo by Harry Robbins, another extremely talented member of this top-flight band.
Unfortunately, there is no film of Val performing Teddy Bears Picnic. But, Val's daughter, Claudia Russell, not surprisngly, also a singer, performs it with her group, the Folk Unlimited Orchestra, as a tribute to her father. Have a listen - do you hear a family resemblance? (You can buy Claudia's version of Teddy Bear's Picnic on iTunes.)
Here's a link to all of Claudia's YouTube Videos.
Val's MGM career did not deliver the promised fame and fortune. But his new name stuck, and Rosing (now Russell) set about on a career as an opera performer and musical theater actor starring in Broadway shows such as the Song of Norway and the Student Prince.
In the 1940s Russell began to focus on operatic music and performed with the Philadelphia Opera, the NYC Opera, the LA Light Opera and the San Francisco Opera Company, as well as shows staged by his father, Vladmir Rosing, a well known Russian tenor, who among other musical endeavors, directed operatic pageants at the Hollywood Bowl. To learn more about Russell's career in America, visit our page on Gilbert Russell.
Far from England, Rosing lost touch with his UK fans and friends, who knew nothing of his new life in the USA. And his American family, which included a wife, daughter and two step-daughters, knew nothing of his glory days as a British Dance Hall singer.
It was three decades after Russell's death that a British music
journalist, Ray Pallett, editor of
Since that discovery in 1999, Russell and her husband Bruce Kaplan (that's me) started collecting Rosing’s recordings on 78s as well as digital transcriptions from Pallett and other collectors. The Yahoo British Dance Bands Group, as well as eBay became invaluable resources. June provided photos and background information for the project. Audio restoration engineer Dave Radlauer provided the expertise to retore the old 78s, removing rumble, pops and clicks from the 78s that were almost 80 years old.
At this time, we have almost a hundred songs recorded by Rosing between 1930 and 1937. We are certain there at least another 20 or 30 songs recorded that we don't yet have.
Val recorded a variety of material. Some of it was clearly directed by other bandleaders, such as the Henry Hall material that Val is most known for. His first recordings with Spike Hughes and his Decca-Dents are wonderful Jazz records that demonstrate Hughes appreciation for the "Negro" music coming out of America. The newly reissued compilation includes St. James Infirmary, a song with deep roots, and in this recording, a swinging hot Jazz band.
His record companies touted him as “England's Supreme Singer of Sentimenatal Songs.” There are many songs that fall under of the category of sentimental ballads, and in this author's opinion, much of that material doesn't hold up. But there are notable exceptions - certainly Try A Little Tenderness, You Are My Lucky Star.
Rosing's later records feature him as the artist and band leaders, and they range from the unabashedly sentimental to the outright swinging. Here we have found such gems as (in addition to Lucky Star) I Can't Give You Anything But Love, and the Radio Rhythm Rascal's Sweet Sue and Dinah. The Rascals sound like a cross between Django Reinhardt and Saul Hoopi, and feature the wonderful Hawaiian style guitar of Len Fillis, one of England's must prolific studio musicians ever.
Clearly, Rosing played with many if not most of England's best musicians. The Hall Orchestra is incredibly tight with inpeccable arrangements and playing. Ray Noble's band on Try A Little Tenderness is outstanding. And Rosing's own groups often rise to the material with inspired mastery.
We have favored mostly the better known uptempo and swing numbers on this release. With many more "in the vault" and are planning a second release as these songs get remastered. It's likely that these will be download only.
Rosing's high vibrato tenor is perhaps an acquired taste, and a voice of his time, suited better to style of the beginning of 1930s. But he shows all the hallmarks of an excellent singer - first and foremost, sincerity and emotional connection to the song, powered by excellent pitch and phrasing.
All of this has been a revelation to Claudia, who lost her dad when she was 13. He never shared details of his pop career with her or the rest of the family. But she remembers the singing teacher, and listening to records with him. He loved all types of music and could enjoy the newest single from Aretha Franklin or the Rolling Stones. He was English after all. He drove a Jaguar and favored English sweets and cookies.
One discovery for Claudia, was that both she and her father had recorded the cowboy classic, Home On The Range. Claudia Russell, as American sounding a singer as her father was British, loves songs of the West and included it on her first CD even as her band members kidded her about it. For Rosing, Home On the Range was perhaps a bit of a stretch for the Englishman to tackle, probably inspired by Bing Crosby. He fares magnificently on other classic tunes such as Sweet Sue, Dinah, and of course Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
This year, on February 21, Val Rosing would have turned 100 years old. Have a listen to one of the great British singers of the 20th Century.