In the early 1930s, bandleader Richard Himber broadcast regularly for the Studebaker Corporation, and the familiar strains of his theme song, “It Isn’t Fair” allowed the listeners to hear which band was playing.

Twenty years later, with vocalists supplanting the bands on the nation’s popularity charts, noted booking agent Cork O’Keefe, whose agency booked bands into Cumberland, ran across the song in a catalog he purchased, and saw its potential for 1950 music fans.

O’Keefe was a regular golfing buddy with Perry Como, who had been turning out one hit record after another since Victor signed him to a recording contract in 1943, after Ted Weems disbanded and sent his musicians looking for work.

The trouble was, in those days, every song publisher and songwriter were after Como to record their work. And there is only so much room on the Billboard charts. There was no Hot 100 in 1950; there was only a Top 30, and competition was intense.

On this particular golfing day, it was a threesome: O’Keefe, Como, and bandleader Sammy Kaye.

Kaye had formed his first orchestra at Ohio University, played the small college circuit until securing a recording contract in 1937. The band played at Potomac State College where he was welcomed as “Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye.”

The maestro liked the slogan so much he took it with him, adopted it, and it appeared on all of his records, including No. 1 hits “Daddy,” “Chickory Chick,” “The Old Lamp Lighter” and “Harbor Lights.” (James Goldsworthy Sr., father of Times-News columnist Jim Goldsworthy, was on the committee at Potomac State that came up with the Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye slogan. He told me that “it rhymed and sounded good.”)

At the golf match, O’Keefe pitched “It Isn’t Fair” to Como, who seemed interested. Kaye, an astute businessman, took in the entire conversation and remembered the Himber version, and thought it would be a good vehicle for his long time vocalist, Don Cornell.

Don had been with the Kaye crew since 1942, and both Don and Sammy knew it was time to embark on a solo career. Tony Alamo (pronounced A-lA-mo) was gaining much popularity as a vocalist, and Sammy was grooming him to take Don’s spot.

A month or so later, someone stopped Cork O’Keefe and told him, “you’ve got a real hit on your hands with ’It Isn’t Fair.’” Cork replied, “Well, anything Como touches turns to gold.” O’Keefe was surprised that it was Sammy Kaye who recorded the song. Perry opted for another early 1930s song, “If.”

The Kaye recording showcased the vocal stylings of Cornell, who never really displayed such range on previous Kaye records. The record became a million seller, remained on the charts for months, and paved the way for a successful Don Cornell solo career.

Not long afterwards, Kaye shocked the music world by leaving RCA Victor after 12 years and signing with Columbia Records, hitting No. 1 immediately with “Harbor Lights,” which showcased the new vocalist, Tony Alamo.

It’s interesting that the year 1950 saw the revival of 1930s songs: “It Isn’t Fair,” “Harbor Lights,” “Unless,” and “If,” as well as “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” by Frankie Laine.

Jack Kegg’s column appears on Sundays in the Times-News.

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