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The Modernaires History

The Modernaires

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Based in: Buffalo, United States.

When one thinks or speaks of "The Modernaires", immediately you relate to their classic 1941-1942 association with "American's Number One Dance Band," Glenn Miller and his Orchestra. Yet, superb as each and every one of their Miller performances were, "The Modernaires", had already existed, performed and recorded for several years prior and would continue to do so for more than half a century after their sensational 19-month stint with that legendary leader.


Talent springs from all over, and in the early 1930's, Buffalo, New York was the wellspring for a trio of young men who liked to sing. Harold Dickinson (lead and second tenor), Bill Conway (baritone) and Chuck Goldstein (first tenor) were three Lafayette High School students from the wintry city of Buffalo. In 1935 as Glenn Miller Rehersal a trio, they called the group the "The Three Weary Willies", performing at high school functions and then on WGR local radio. Their wages at the time were all the shoe polish they could use. Venturing southward to New York City, the trio then became known as "Don Juan Two And Three" and were featured on CBS radio. In early 1936, they recorded with Red McKenzie's jazz unit and the Mound City Blue Blowers, who shared a mike with the immortal trumpeter, Bunny Berrigan. They also sang with the George Hall band and the Ozzie Nelson band where they became known as "The Three Wizards of Ozzie". While performing with Fred Waring, they recruited Ralph Breswter to finally make "The Modernaires" a reality.

Hal Dickinson continued to sing lead as Ralph began the first of his thirteen years as first tenor. Chuck Goldstein moved to baritone and BillConway sang bass. "The Modernaires" made their memorable pre-Miller recordings with the orchestra of Charlie Barnet (as the "Barnet Modernaires") including "Make Believe Ballroom" and "The Milkman's Matinee". Each of those tunes served respectively, as the theme song for prominent New York disc jockeys, Martin Block and Art Ford, both of whom played recorded music at the famous radio station, WNEW. "The Modernaires" performed and recorded in and around the New York area with the band of Ted Fio Rito. Although thor ough ly engaged with their singing they found time to make a musical film short ("You Hit the Spot") with Harry Reser's orchestra, and found their way to Cincinnati, Ohio, for a series of unforgetable broadcasts on that city's station, WLW. In 1938, "The Modernaires" were honored to join the famous Paul Whiteman organization. In the 1920's Paul had been known as "The King of Jazz". Now, in the late 1930's the portly gentleman was being billed somewhat more accurately as, "The Dean of Modern American Music". The title was fitting, for no one in the Whiteman organization sounded more "Modern" than "The Modernaires" themselves! "The Mod's " were featured on the Maestro's weekly radio show, and recorded many of the popular songs of the era, some with Jack Teagarden. The first in a series of replacements came when Chuck Goldstein, one of the original three "boys from Buffalo", left toform his own vocal quintet, "The Four Chicks and Chuck". "TheModernaires" big break came in 1939 after a brief time with Ray Noble. The great Glenn Miller,who had been a trombonist with Noble during "The Modernaires" residence, formed his own group and "borrowed" them to record a tune called"It's Make Believe Ballroom Time".sequel to the original "Make Believe Ballroom" "The Modernaires" with the Glenn Miller which they had recorded earlier for Martin Block's Big Orchestra and Glenn invited "The Modernaries" to become an important part of the most popular big band of all time.

Paula Kelly at the time (she became Mrs. Hal Dickinson on New Years Eve. 1939) was the Miller band Original Mods Hal Dickinson - John Drake - Fran Scott Paula Kelly Ralph Brewster

It wasn't until 1941 that Paula joined the Modernaires "The Modernaires", as backup to Paula, made their debut release with the No.1 hit "Prefidia". Several Billboard Chart hits followed. Among these was "The Boogie Wooglie Piggy" with Tex Beneke, "I Guess I'll Have To Dream The Rest" and "Elmer's Tune" with Ray Eberle. They had other collaborations with Beneke and Ernie Caceres and sang the Glenn Miller Orchestra"s signature tune "Chattanooga Choo Choo". Listening to the Glenn Miller recordings of "Juke Box Saturday Night", "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)", "Serenade In Blue", "Kalamazoo". "Moonlight Cocktail". still fill hearts and minds today. With the onset of WW II Glenn was enlisted in the air force and as the war went on was reported missing in action. 1942 concluded with "The Modernaries" now out on their own. First appearing as "The Glenn Miller singers" with fellow ex-Miller vocalists, Tex Beneke, and Marion Hutton, and then in 1943 with Miller Orchestra with Skip Nelson when they recorded the hit "That Old Black Magic". Soon after the war began, Bill Conway, another member of the original trio, left to join the service. Over the next two war years a dizzying series of replacements came and went as the Original Kelly Sisters

Original Kelly Sisters: Martha -- Paula -- Judy

remaining original members, Hal Dickinson and Ralph Breswter, preserved the identity of "The Modernaires". With Miller missing in action "The Modernaires", in 1944, moved to Columbia Records. Their second single, "Tribute To Glenn Miller", was a medley of Glenn's most popular tunes. The rest of the 40's saw many additional changes with such notables as Alan Copeland, Vernon Polk Tommy Traynor and Chuck Kelly. In 1949 "The Modernaires" recorded, "The Old Master Painter" with Frank Sinatra. It wasn't until 1953 when, with a new recording contract with Coral Records, they had success with an update of "Juke Box Saturday Night".

TO THE PRESENT...........

PAULA KELLY Jr was born in Grove City, PA, the middle daughter of Hal Dickinson and Paula Kelly. Early on she sang in church choirs. Educated in San Fernando Valley, CA schools, she majored in music. Singing with "The Modernaires" from 1966 through 1971 she traveled most of the world learning the lead part from her Mother. Hal, her father passed in 1970 and in 1971 she retired to marry. 1972 brought her a beautiful red haired daughter, Jennifer Holly Cole. Previously Paula had performed with her two sisters, Julie and Martha in a trio called "The Kelly Sisters". They made several appearances on the Bob Crosby and Dean Martin television shows. When her Mom, Paula Kelly retired in 1978, the natural replacement was her daughter, Paula Kelly Jr. She was so privileged to have worked with most of the great acts of the 40's and 50's. These were her parent's friends and colleagues. They were great Entertainers such as, Helen Forrest, Tex Beneke, Helen O'connell, Bob & Ray Eberle, Peter Marshall, Tony Martin, Count Basie, Les Brown, The Mills Brothers, Rosemary Clooney and yes, even Louie Armstrong. "The Modernaires" toured six times in Australia. Three of the tours were with surviving members of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Billy May, an original, actually took trumpet lessons to do the tour. Among others on the tour were Paul Tanner, Wilbur Schwartz, John Best, Jimmy Priddy, Al Klink and Zeke Zarchy.

JULIE DICKINSON, the youngest of the three daughters of Paula Kelly and Hal Dickinson, made her Sisters Now

Kelly Sisters Now -- Hal & Paula's Daughters Martha - Julie - Paula Jr

singing debut at the age of 3 with her Mom and two sisters, Paula and Martha, on CBS Television-- "The Bob Crosby Show". Julie worked with her mother as a duo and made many commercials. Grounded in singing with her church choir and school music experiences, she was the "Singer of the Year" at her high school in 1965. Julie was the lead singer for the three "Kelly Sisters", who recorded for the Coed label. Julie performed on several 60's TV shows with the Kelly Sisters including the "The Dean Martin Show", the "Hullabaloo" and "Ninth Street West". The Kelly Sisters performed in Las Vegas with Liberace and Johnny Sea. The sisters made an album with their parents and singing the famous "Mod Squad" love theme. Julie toured extensively in the United States with John Scott, son of a former Modernaire, Fran Scott, as the duo "John and Julie". Today Julie does studio work in her spare time and is thrilled to return to the stage with the "The Modernaires".

JOE CROYLE joined the current "The Modernaires" in 1996. Joe has been Jim-Paula-Julie-Joe

featured with Sally Struthers in her nightclub act, performing with her on the Jerry Lewis Telethon, Merv Griffin and Dinah Shore shows. He then went on to sing with Mama Cass Elliott, appearing at the London Palladium among other venues. Joe was featured singer and dancer in Ann-Margaret's act, and from there was selected to become a part of Peter Marshall's group, "Chapter Five", where he enjoyed eight years, appearing in major U.S. cities and on television, including a command performance for President Carter at the White House. Joe's voice can be heard on countless radio and television jingles. He has also performed in many industrial shows and MC'd for many national beauty pageants.

JIM STEPHENS............The newest member of our musical family, has been involved in music since he was a teenager. A Los Angeles native, he appeared on the music sceneas a member of the world famous "Safaris". In 1960 he was the lead singer on their hit single, "Image Of A Girl", which sold over a million records and is in the "Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame". Jim was also a member of the popular 40's group, "The Merry Macs" in the early 60's. He recently appeared on "Doo Wop - Love Songs", a TV special on PBS as a featured artist singing his famous "Image Of A Girl". Jim has performed with the "Late Nite Big Band" for the past few years in Southern California and loves that "Big Band" sound and great vocal harmonies. We are thrilled to have Jim, with his wonderful group singing abilities and talent. We know that his high energy and love of our music, will only enhance and bring a great balance and blend to our group.

"The Modernaires" were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame ( in Sharon, Pennsylvania, on October 20, 2000. The group's most recent CD, "The Modernaires Now with Paula Kelly Jr", is a collection of some of the most memorable Big Band songs of the past. This CD "The Modernaires Now" is getting great reaction from big band jockeys across the country. The CD maybe purchased on this website.

"The Modernaires" have been going strong for over 70 years. They intend to continue as long as audiences want to hear this great music, true Americana. A 3rd and 4th generation are warming up.

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