Horace Heidt & His Orchestra

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Pianist and band leader, popular in the 30s and 40s.
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b. 21 May 1901, Alemeda, California, USA, d. 1 December 1986, Los Angeles, California, USA. Heidt studied piano as a boy but was more interested in US football. He might have had a career in the game but for a serious back injury incurred when playing for the University of California in the early 20s. He began playing the piano professionally in 1923, and before long had his own band, Horace Heidt And His Californians. Throughout his career he featured some extremely successful stunts and gimmicks, one of his first involved a performing dog named Lobo. In 1930 the band played New York’s Palace Theatre, and was described as ‘sensational’. After a run of 16 weeks they went to Monte Carlo for three months, then played the Palace again before returning to California for theatre and radio work. In 1936, now billed as Horace Heidt And His Musical Knights (or Brigadiers), he got the first of his sponsored radio shows, for the Alemite company, giving birth to the catchphrase: ‘Horace Heidt for Alemite’. His outfit at this time played his usual brand of sweet, middle-of-the-road, commercial music and consisted of 14 musicians, a glee club, and featured Frankie Carle on piano, and Alvino Rey on electric guitar (an innovation in those days). Other personnel during the late 30s and early 40s included arranger Frank De Vol on lead alto saxophone and vocals, the King Sisters vocal quartet, blind whistler Fred Lowery, Bobby Hackett on cornet, and vocalists Larry Cotton and Gordon MacRae. The band reached its peak in 1938 with Heidt’s second big radio show, Pot O’Gold. This was one of the first radio shows to give away money to the listening audience and involved a telephone directory, a spinning dial, and a phone call to the number selected by the dial. The person who answered the call received $1, 000. A comedy film, inspired by the show and with the same title, was made in 1941, featuring, besides Heidt, James Stewart and Paulette Goddard. In the following year Heidt started the show, Treasure Chest, which ran for several years.

For a while during the 40s Heidt dropped out of the band business owing to a disagreement with the Music Corporation of America. On his return he had another big hit, Youth Opportunity Programme, a radio talent shop, broadcast from a different location each week. Accordionist Dick Cortino was an early discovery and went on to become a featured star of the show and, later prominent in his own right. After a five-year-spell on radio, Heidt transferred the show to television in the mid 50s. A few years later he retired to his real estate business in the San Fernado Valley. Although he led showbands rather than dance orchestras, Heidt’s units featured some excellent musicians, and were generally highly regarded, especially those of the mid-40s.

From 1937-45 he had a string of US Top 10 hits including ‘Gone With The Wind’ (a number 1); ‘Hot Lips’, ‘It’s The Natural Thing To Do’, ‘Little Heaven Of The Seven Seas’, ‘Once In A While’, ‘There’s A Gold Mine In The Sky’, ‘Sweet Someone’, ‘Rosalie’, ‘Sweet As A Song’, ‘Ti-Pi-Tin’ (number 1), ‘Lovelight In The Starlight’, ‘This Time It’s Real’, ‘My Margarita’, ‘Tu-Li Tulip Time’, ‘This Can’t Be Love’, ‘Little Sir Echo’, ‘Penny Serenade’, ‘Shabby Old Cabby’, ‘The Man With The Mandolin’, ‘Friendly Tavern Polka’, ‘G’bye Now’, ‘The Hut-Hut Song’, ‘Goodbye Dear, I’ll Be Back In A Year’, ‘I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire’, ‘Shepherd Serenade’, ‘Bi-i-Bi’ and ‘Don’t Fence Me In’. Heidt’s theme song, which he co-wrote, was ‘I’ll Love You In My Dreams’, and his most successful record, reputedly a million-seller, was the catchy novelty, ‘Deep In The Heart Of Texas’, which came complete with the obligatory hand-claps. Horace Heidt died from pneumonia in December 1986. His son, Horace Jnr., became a band leader, and his versatile drumming was at the forefront of a package show which also featured John Gary, Fran Warren, Arthur Duncan and Henry Cuesta, on a 1990 US tour.