The Other Face Of Singer Val Rosing Rosing sang the original recording of "Try a Little Tenderness" and was known best for his hit single "The Teddy Bears Picnic." But when he was spotted by an MGM executive and brought to America, "Val Rosing" effectively ceased to exist. This weekend marks what would have been Rosing's 100th birthday.
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The Other Face Of Singer Val Rosing

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The Other Face Of Singer Val Rosing

The Other Face Of Singer Val Rosing

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

(Soundbite of song, "Try a Little Tenderness")

SIEGEL: This song was first recorded on December 8, 1932, on a 78 rpm record -rpm means revolutions per minute, by the way by a singer named Val Rosing.

(Soundbite of song, "Try a Little Tenderness")

Mr.�VAL ROSING (Singer): (Singing) She may be weary. Women do get weary wearing the same shabby dress. And when she's weary, try a little tenderness.

SIEGEL: Val Rosing was the first to record "Try a Little Tenderness," but he was by no means the last.

(Soundbite of song, "Try a Little Tenderness")

Otis Redding (Singer): (Singing) Oh, she may be weary.

Bing Crosby (Singer): (Singing) Women do get weary...

Ted Lewis (Singer): (Singing) ...wearing the same shabby dress.

Jimmy Durante (Singer): (Singing) And when she's weary...

Frank Sinatra (Singer): (Singing) ...try a little tenderness.

SIEGEL: Otis Redding, Bing Crosby, Ted Lewis, Jimmy Durante and Frank Sinatra explaining that young girls do get weary, but we never tire of hearing about it.

But it all started with Val Rosing, and this weekend marks what would have been the singer's 100th birthday. He died in 1969 after a long and varied career. And to tell us a bit more about the man and his very unusual story, we're joined by his daughter, Claudia Russell, and her husband, Bruce Kaplan. They're in the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to the program.

Ms.�CLAUDIA RUSSELL: Thank you very much.

Mr.�BRUCE KAPLAN: Great to be here.

SIEGEL: And Claudia, first tell us: Who was your father? Where did he come from?

Ms.�RUSSELL: Well, my father's name was Val Rosing. He was born Valerian Rosing in London, England, came from a very musical family. His father was also a Val Rosing, Vladimir, and he was a great Russian operatic tenor of his time.

SIEGEL: Now, we heard a recording of him singing "Try a Little Tenderness," but there's another record for which he is perhaps equally famous, this one:

(Soundbite of song, "The Teddy Bears' Picnic")

Mr.�ROSING: (Singing) If you go down in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise. If you go down in the woods today, you'd better go in disguise. For every bear that ever there was will gather there for certain because today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

SIEGEL: That's right. He was the man who sang "The Teddy Bears' Picnic." Bruce Kaplan, tell us a bit about the man who would have been your father-in-law.

Mr.�KAPLAN: He was known as England's supreme singer of sentimental songs. He cut more than a hundred records, but certainly "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" is the song that he's well-known for today.

SIEGEL: So he had a very big career in England.

Ms.�RUSSELL: Right. He recorded "Sweet Sue" and "Dinah." His band was called the Radio Rhythm Rascals.

SIEGEL: Now, at this point, Claudia, we'd sort of expect to hear that you grew up hearing about stories about your father's career in London, being this renowned crooner in England in the 1930s. Not at all, I gather.

Ms.�RUSSELL: No, not at all. In fact, I knew nothing of that part of his life. He actually he had a different life...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RUSSELL: ...once he came to America.

SIEGEL: When people move from one country to another, and certainly when a great many people crossed the Atlantic to the United States, they left behind a part of their life and they assumed a new life, but the transition for Val Rosing was quite remarkable. First, what were the circumstances of his coming to America?

Mr.�KAPLAN: Val did a few films in England during the mid-1930s, and Louis B. Mayer saw them and brought Val to MGM in 1938 in order to perhaps promote him as the English Bing Crosby.

Unidentified Man #1: The makers of Maxwell House Coffee, from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, invite you to be their guests for the next 59 minutes on Soundstage 30 here in Hollywood. Our guest list has all the earmarks of a who's who in Hollywood and is headed by the guiding genius of our movie alma mater, Mr.�Louis B. Mayer.

Mr.�LOUIS B. MAYER: It is now my pleasure to present a young Englishman who you on the other side have heard often through the British Broadcasting Company. I heard him sing in England when I was there last summer, and he's under contract to us now here in Hollywood. His name is Gilbert Russell, though you knew him as Val Rosing. Gilbert is going to present now Jerome Kern's composition, "The Way You Look Tonight."

(Soundbite of song, "The Way You Look Tonight")

Mr.�ROSING: (Singing) Someday, when I'm awfully low and the world is cold, I will feel aglow just thinking of you, just the way you look tonight.

Mr.�KAPLAN: And so Val Rosing just really disappeared, and now he was Gilbert Russell.

Ms.�RUSSELL: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms.�RUSSELL: And it's like, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Louis B. Mayer just turned your father into Gilbert Russell.

Ms.�RUSSELL: Yes, and I didn't know about Val Rosing, and neither did well, I know that my stepmother and mother probably knew of Val Rosing but very, very little. My father did not talk about his youth.

SIEGEL: Tell us, then, about Gilbert Russell. What did he do in the United States?

Ms.�RUSSELL: Well, he worked for MGM for about two and a half years, and he got interested in sort of developing his voice beyond pop singer and started really studying voice seriously and became an operatic singer.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr.�ROSING: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms.�RUSSELL: He then worked in San Francisco Opera, New York. He worked in Los Angeles at the Civic Light Opera there.

Mr.�KAPLAN: He got the second lead in a show called the "Song of Norway."

Ms.�RUSSELL: That's where he met my mother, too. My mother was a dancer.

SIEGEL: Here's the remarkable thing about the story, which is that your father, Val Rosing, seems to have just - well, he seems to have left Val Rosing behind, just had a complete breach in who he was and what people knew him for.

Ms.�RUSSELL: Yeah, I wish I really knew why.

Mr.�KAPLAN: Well, his father, Vladimir Rosing, was a very successful opera tenor.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr.�VLADIMIR ROSING (Opera Tenor): (Singing in foreign language)

Mr.�KAPLAN: He played Carnegie Hall, and Val was a young pop singer, and that probably went over with his father about as well as joining a punk band went over with my parents in 1977.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�KAPLAN: So I think that's one reason why he left both the pop music behind, although he always loved...

Ms.�RUSSELL: Big jazz fan, laying on the couch, Saturday afternoons, listening to all sorts of jazz and all sorts of music. He introduced me to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Aretha Franklin. He actually sat down and played me all that music and gave me a guitar and taught me three chords, and he was a very he was all about music.

SIEGEL: Claudia Russell, Bruce Kaplan, thanks to both of you for talking with us.

Ms.�RUSSELL: My pleasure, thank you.

Mr.�KAPLAN: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Bruce Kaplan and Claudia Russell talking about her late father, his later father-in-law, born Val Rosing, died Gilbert Russell, a man who later coached singing in Hollywood and whose daughter now carries on the family music tradition.

(Soundbite of song, "The Teddy Bears' Picnic")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Beneath the trees, where nobody sees, they'll hide and seek as long as they please. That's the way the teddy bears have their picnic.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) Because today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic.

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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