Fred Waring may have died more than 25 years ago, but his legacy - captured in countless radio shows, TV programs, albums, cartoons and recordings - has proven everlasting.
Waring had such an impact on popular music that he eventually picked up the grandiose nickname "The Man Who Taught America How to Sing."
The new exhibit "Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians: A Musical Legacy," on view through Aug. 1 in the Diversity Studies Room of Pattee Library on the Penn State University Park campus, tries to present people with an overview of the Tyrone native's life and career. The exhibit is part of a celebration of the 110th anniversary of Waring's birth this June.
A shot of the current Fred Waring Collection exhibit at Penn State University Park.
"He had a career that spanned almost the entire 20th century," says Eileen Akin, coordinator of the Fred Waring Collection, formally known as "Fred Waring's America." "The exhbit is really a comprehensive look at his career and all the things that he was a pioneer in, (including) radio, on stage, television and more."
Waring, a Penn State alumni, left the school his expansive archives and memorabilia collection upon his death in 1984. The collection contains more than 30,000 photographs, 25,000 recordings, 6,000 musical arrangements, 3,000 pieces of sheet music and 600 pieces of original cartoon art, thanks to Waring's long-time relationship with the National Cartoonist Society.
"It's a very audio-visual rich collection," Akin said. "We are fortunate to have all of his radio shows, all his recordings, so I was really able to highlight all his life and career."
If you go
What: "Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians: A Musical Legacy"
When: through Aug. 1
Where: Diversity Studies Room, 109 Pattee Library, Penn State University Park
More information: Call 863-2911 or visit www.libraries.psu.edu/waring
A gallery talk by Eileen Aiken and Peter Kiefer will be held from 3 to 4:30 p.m. June 9 in 109 Pattee in celebration of the 110th anniversary of Fred Waring's birth.
According to the collection's official biography, that career started officially in Tyrone in 1917, when Waring and a neighborhood friend formed their first band and began playing local dances. The group eventually evolved into "Waring's Banjo Orchestra," featuring the then unique feature of a band both playing instruments and singing. In 1922, while studying architectural engineering at Penn State, Waring made the decision to leave school to pursue music full time.
Within a year, "Waring's Pennsylvanians" had their first No. 1 song, "Sleep," the first popular music record to use a vocal chorus. The 1920s made Waring and his band famous, as the jazz band's fast-pace and innovative stage show, featuring lighting tricks designed by Waring, led to tours both nationally and internationally. The decade also saw them on Broadway and in the film "Syncopation," one of the first all-talking, all-musical films.
In the 1930s and '40s, "Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians" were at the height of their popularity as the stars of several radio shows, including the award-winning "The Chesterfield Pleasure Time Radio Show."
"It's through radio that he became a household name and a megastar," Akin said.
Waring's time on the radio led him to many innovations, such as the first vocal swing groups and the first girls choir on radio. The radio shows also saw Waring and company working with such performers as actor/singer Johnny Davis, singing group the Lane Sisters, singer Patsy Garrett and guitarist Les Paul, all early in their careers.
It was also in the 1940s that Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians had perhaps their most memorable hit, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
"'The Battle Hymn of the Republic' became a gold record for him," Akin said. "It was an old Civil War poem that he sort of resurrected from history."
To finish the decade in 1949, Waring began "The Fred Waring Television Show," the first weekly one-hour musical show on the still-young medium of television. The show ran for five years, winning several awards. But Waring wasn't happy with TV and went back to touring live, traveling thousands of miles each year to perform all over the country.
It was during this time that he first hired Peter Kiefer.
"I started working for him when I was a student at Penn State," Kiefer said in an interview with the Mirror. "When I graduated in 1956, he offered me a job as his sound recording engineer. I accepted immediately because he had been my idol since I was about 8 years old."
Kiefer would be part of Waring's crew for more than 30 years. He only parted from the group during a stint in the military and a short period of solo work for a company in Philadelphia. In 1970, Kiefer rejoined Waring as a sound recording engineer once more, staying with him until Waring's death in 1984.
"I said to people that when he died and gave his things to Penn State, I was in the boxes," Kiefer jokes.
Funny, but in a way the statement is true. Kiefer was the first curator of "Fred Waring's America."
"He never threw anything away," he says. "It all came here and it's just a huge collection. It's probably one of the most active collections here at the library. I don't think there's a day that goes by that we don't get a call or an e-mail searching for information."
Now retired as curator, Kiefer says he is very happy with the new exhibit in honor of his former boss's life.
"(The exhibit) is wonderful," he says. "I'm very proud of Eileen. It gives a complete overview of what he was and what he did. Whether you know what he was or not, I recommend everyone should go see it. It really shows who he was."
Outside of music, "Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians: A Musical Legacy" also focuses on Waring's private life, including his help in the development, promotion and marketing of the first electric mixer, marketed as the Waring Blendor for the first time in 1937.
The exhibit also includes many examples from his large comic strip collection. Waring was a life-long comics lover and held an annual retreat for the National Cartoonists Society at his Shawnee Inn and Country Club in Stroudsburg from 1948 to 1973. His relationship with some of the biggest names in the business, like Rube Goldberg, Mort Walker ("Beetle Bailey"), Bil Keane ("The Family Circus") and Chester Gould ("Dick Tracy") helped him accumulate his collection.
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.