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Friday, October 22, 2021

The Medicine Man For The Blues - Ted Lewis

I Got A Woman, Crazy For Me, She's Funny That Way

The Medicine Man For The Blues
Ted Lewis and His Orchestra
Vocal Choruses by Ted Lewis
Decca Records DL 8322

From the back cover: Ted Lewis started life as Theodore Friedman, of Circleville, Ohio, where – as a youngster – he was indelibly impressed by the dramatic gyrations of the drum major of the town's brass band. He spent years emulating the dashing gestures of the drum major – first practicing with a cane and, later, with the clarinet he had chosen to play. Probably more than any other single influence, that small-boy fascination helped Ted to formulate his strutting, purposely melodramatic stage personality of the future.

Ted's first "professional engagement" was in an early movie-house, one of those 125-seater Nickelodeons which played three shows daily for the fantastic admission fee of five cents. It was called the Electric Theatre, although it was actually more a store room next to a barber shop on Circleville's South Main Street. All the music was supplied by an old fashioned phonograph until the manager decided to add some live talent to he entertainment venture. He hired a youth named Theodore Friedman, whose father ran a clothing store up the street, to play clarinet and sing songs. To the manager's – and Theodore's – amazement, the patrons clapped louder for the live talent than for the celluloid heroes and heroines.

Encouraged  by this first success, young Theodore went on to a partnership with a singing comedian named Eddie Lewis. They were to share equal billing as "Lewis & Friedman" on the marquee of the small vaudeville house where they were to make their debut as a team, but the manager didn't quite have room for the billing so he changed it arbitrarily to "Lewis & Lewis," Thus, Ted Lewis' stage name was born.

Branching out on his own, Ted learned his highly competitive trade the hard way – via the sink-or-swim school of tent-shows, carnivals, burlesque, and cheap vaudeville, to the big-time circuits of New York. Ted realized early that, to succeed, an entertainer had to have a style – a distinctive something that nobody else had. Using his drum major flourishes with cane of clarinet as a starting point, he developed a footlight personality that was to become one of the most imitated in show business. Organizing a jazz orchestra, Ted would address his audiences from the stage in an intimate and friendly way; he would "talk" songs or "act" songs, rather than strictly sing them. He would be melodramatic – but always with a tongue-in-cheek twinkle in his eyes which made people laugh with him rather than at him. He became a master of modern minstrelsy, supplementing the music of his band with a manner that radiated magnetism.

It was in 1917 that Ted acquired his most famous "prop" – the battered top hat with which people always associate him. He won it in a crap game... in New York's famous Rector's, from a Negro cabbie named Mississippi whose exploits were legend along the Great White Way. Nine presidents – Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower, and one king, George V of England – have watched Ted manipulate his top hat. Ten years later that hat got a silver lining - sliver silk - when two composers wrote a song which they felt was perfect for Lewis' style. Ted lined the hat to fit the lyric "Wear A Hat With A Silver Lining," and the song soon became as closely identified with the entertainer as the hat.

For many years, no Lewis performance was complete without the appearance of Charles "Snowball" Whittier, better known as Ted Lewis' shadow. Ted discovered Charlie when the latter was working as an usher at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. The young colored lad has an unusual gift for mimicry and a natural wit. One night Ted caught him imitating his stage mannerisms in front of a delighted audience. Ted and Charlie – Lewis and his shadow – remained together for sixteen years, until Whittier elected to try his luck solo. Since then Ted's shadow has been Elroy Peace, who imitates the famous entertainer quite as uncannily as Charlie did.

From Billboard - July 21, 1956: The label will revive many misty-eyed memories with this collection of throwbacks to another, and triumphal day, in show business. Lewis has had the best of them, in vaudeville houses and clubs everywhere, eating out of his hand, and here are some of the tunes he did it with, from originals slicing. Sound here can't compare with today's hi-fi etchings, but part of the charm lies right there. Some of the best tunes are "When My Baby Smiles At me," "Just Around The Corner," "Good Night," "Down In The Old Church Aisle,"etc. Appeal of the material tied in with an eye-catching cover should make this good inventory. Competing package, released this week on the Unique label, duplicates five of the selections but the older clique of fans will likely want both packages.

When My Baby Smiles At Me
I Got A Woman, Crazy For Me, She's Funny That Way
I'm The Medicine Man For The Blues
The Old St. Louis Blues
Jazz Me Blues
Tiger Rag
Wear A Hat With A Silver Lining
Just Around The Corner
Down The Old Church Aisle 
The Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi
Three O'Clock In The Morning
Good Night

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