Thursday, February 17, 2011


Orrin Tucker is one of the last surviving big band members. He may not be as famous as Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw, but he is the last one left! Today he turns 100 years old! Tucker was born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 17, 1911. Though he had studied to be a doctor, Orrin Tucker ended up as a singer and a bandleader. He was leading a successful, though not well-known, orchestra in 1939 when his female vocalist, Wee Bonnie Baker, recorded an old WWI tune called ''Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh!''

With the help of her sexy sighs and coos, Tucker found himself with a hit record and one of the hottest bands in the country. Tucker, though, didn't let fame go to his head. He realized his limitations and knew his orchestra's strength, and that strength was in playing dance music for the middle-aged crowd. That he continued to do, very successfully, long after many of his contemporaries had called it quits.

After graduating from high school in 1929, Tucker learned that Northwestern University's School of Speech offered one one-year scholarship per year to an Illinois resident interested in studying theater arts. He figured once enrolled, he could then take pre-med courses. After completing his freshman year, he transferred to North Central College in Naperville, which was closer to Wheaton. To help meet college expenses, Tucker formed a band to play at the Spanish Tearoom in Naperville. The band was so good that it drew patrons from as far away as Chicago. Noting his success, a local agent booked Tucker and his band for a three-week engagement at a New Orleans hotel during Mardi Gras. The band faired well at the "Crescent City" engagement which inspired Tucker to then focus all his energies full time to band leading. "That did it for me," Tucker said. "Staying in music what was what I wanted to do. From then on, there was no turning back."

In 1933, Tucker organized his first full-time band, opting to stay in the Chicago area. Two years later, the band began a long stay at the Troutdale Hotel in Evergreen, CO, with a successful engagement at the "Windy City's" Edgewater Beach Hotel the following year. The clientele at the Edgewater Beach Hotel loved Tucker's music so much that the band returned for a six-month stay at the posh resort in October 1937. By March 1938, the Tucker band found itself playing in the "Big Apple," at the famed Roosevelt Hotel.

Orrin Tucker himself was a pleasant enough singer and his band was gaining popularity. However, when he hired Bonnie Baker as his girl singer in February 1938, the band's popularity increased. "We were in Kansas City at the time and I received a telephone call from Louis Armstrong telling me about this singer named Evelyn Nelson who was singing at the Claridge Hotel in St. Louis," Tucker said. "He told me that she sings with a cute voice and that if I wrote cute songs for her, I could make her a star." Tucker went to check out the five-foot charmer from Orange, TX. He was pleased with what he heard. "It wasn't easy, but I talked her into joining the band," Tucker said. "I also talked her into changing her name. I'm very much in favor for a person's name to begin with consonants. I thought 'Bonnie Baker' was a strong name with confidence. It turned out to be true."

During the early years Tucker was sole vocalist until Louis Armstrong pointed him to Bonnie Baker. Baker's cute voice was just the thing to help push the group over the top. Columbia Records signed them in 1939. ''Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!'' was one of songs in their first recording session. It remained their most popular number, reaching the number two spot on the pop charts. Other vocalists over the years included Helen Lee and Scottee Marsh.

During WWII Tucker served in the Navy as a Lieutenant, Junior Grade. He remained active in the music business until health problems forced him to slow down during the 1990s. In 1997, a fire destroyed all of his record and music collection. Reportedly, Tucker has since moved into an assisted living facility, but he was still giving interviews as recent as 2005.


  1. I've heard his records, but this is the first time I've seen Orrin Tucker. Nice lookin' fella. He shoulda been in pictures.

    Happy Birthday!

  2. After his house fire, I discovered his address and got in touch with him. I made him a few cassettes of his music. I wish I would have kept in touch with him. I still have his letters somewhere.