Saturday, November 29, 2008
Fred Lowery was blinded by scarlet fever at the age of two and sent to the Texas School for the Blind at the age of seven. A music teacher at the school encouraged Lowery to develop his unique talent of whistling as a way of making a living in the sighted world.
Soon, his talents led him to the new audio medium of radio. He was soon signed onto WFAA in Dallas and became a star on one of its many variety shows, picking up the nickname "The Texas Redbird".
In the late 1930s, he decided to try his chances in New York. A blind whistler was more novelty than artistry in New York and the jobs were scarce. A bandleader by the name of Vincent Lopez came around, heard his act, and asked him to join his orchestra.
After four years with Lopez, Fred was lured away by Horace Heidt, who had a national audience and a bigger bankroll. He returned to Lopez briefly, until nightclub owner Billy Rose told Lopez that his patrons didn't want to see "a blind guy whistling when they're eating." Luckily, Heidt soon hired him back.
Lowery usually performed in one or two spots in Heidt's show as a featured soloist, and he can be seen and heard as part of the Musical Knights' appearance in the 1941 film, Pot of Gold. Fred decided to go single in the early 1940s, in partnership with singer Dorothy Rae, another Heidt vet. They soon had a busy schedule of appearances on national and local radio shows and at clubs and concert halls.
His single of "Indian Love Call," still popular from its association with the Nelson Eddy-Jeannette MacDonald film, "Rose Marie," was a one-hit wonder of the war period and the tune most people from that era remember him for. He also won spots on many of the variety shows that played in the first years of network television.
During the 1950s, Fred made some of the most memorable whistling records ever, forever cementing his status as possibly the greatest whistler of all time:
"Whistling For You" (Columbia CL-6091)
"Whistle A Happy Tune" with Anita Kerr (Decca DL-8995)
"Walking Along Kicking The Leaves" (Decca DL-8476)
(considered by some to be the greatest whistling record ever)
Lowery was a deeply religious man who moved away from popular music to focus almost exclusively on religious melodies in his later years. His venues changed from nightclubs to churches and recorded a number of albums for the Christian market. His first were on Gra-Low (as in Gra(cie), his wife, and Low(ery)), his own label, and these records were mostly sold at his church appearances.
When I came across this seven day auction on eBay with one day left and no bidders, I could scarcely believe my eyes. I thought for sure it would sell but, as any good collector would, I kept a watch on it. On the final hour of the final day, not one bid. I kept watching, knowing this would sell for around $30 to $45. Into the final minute, nothing. With 20 seconds to go, I liked my chances and readied a bid.
Sure, I got a copy of this years ago from Basic Hip (no back cover) but this was too good to let go. At the end of the auction, I had a genuine Fred Lowery Christmas album!
There was a small scribble in permanent marker atop the front cover so with my fair to good skills with a PhotoShop program, I managed to get a majority of this airbrushed out - a trace remains.
Fred Lowery - A Family Christmas