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Category Archives: Music

Rat Pack and Johnny Carson

An exciting song that energized Rat Pack shows during the sixties in Las Vegas and elsewhere was originally published in 1926.  The Birth Of The Blues was first recorded by an artist named Whispering Jack Smith in 1927.  It was also the title of a film starring Bing Crosby in 1941.  Along with renditions by artists like Pearl Bailey and Keely Smith, Rat Pack stars Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. were also heard performing the song from time to time.

But probably the most notable performance of The Birth Of The Blues was at a Rat Pack benefit concert in 1965.  It took place at the Kiel Opera House in St. Louis and featured Frank, Sammy and Dean, along with emcee Johnny Carson, filling in for comedian and Rat Pack member Joey Bishop. 

It was the closing song of the show, and featured Johnny joining in with the Rat Pack, and Johnny’s vocal was quite respectable.  The result was a great ending to a great concert that included a wonderful line-up of songs and a lot of playful clowning around including some impressions by Sammy, and some great physical comedy moves by Dean, not to mention the surprise of Johnny Carson’s contribution to the grand finale, The Birth Of The Blues. 

To this day, the song is still performed by Las Vegas Rat Pack Impersonators, in all the historic Las Vegas venues, plus from Los Angeles to New York and around the world.

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One thing everyone would probably agree on is that the Rat Pack definitely had style.  And in the movie Robin & The Seven Hoods, they even sang about it.  In that 1964 film, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are joined by Bing Crosby for a rousing song and dance number on the subject of class, charm and. . .Style.  The song, written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen makes the point that it’s not just what you wear, but how you wear it.  Or, as the lyrics say, “a flower’s not a flower if it’s wilted, and a hat’s not a  hat till its tilted”.  In that regard, Frank Sinatra certainly lived his life with style.

In the movie, the song is performed when Frank and Dean’s characters Robbo and Little John decide to give Bing Crosby’s character Allen A. Dale a  musical lesson on looking good.  First, Bing samples some outrageous outfits to the disapproval of Frank and Dean.  Then, Bing, Frank and Dean are transformed from their 1930’s era Chicago gangster wardrobe into sharp black tuxedos with canes and white straw hats. . .at a tilt, of course.  And it’s all taken in by an appreciating audience consisting of Sammy Davis Jr.’s character Will, and four other cast members. 

Many years later, Style was used as the theme music for a reunion tour featuring Frank, Sammy and Liza Minnelli who was filling in for an ailing Dean Martin.  And today, the song is still performed occasionally when the Rat Pack is re-created by Rat Pack Impersonators in Los Angeles, also seen often in Las Vegas and other cities around America.

In 2002, Capitol Records released a collection of 21 Christmas songs from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.  It was called Christmas With The Rat Pack, and the cover featured Ocean’s 11 style artwork.  The album included Frank’s popular Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas and I’ll Be Home For Christmas.  And from Dean, there’s Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, and Baby, It’s Cold Outside, among others.

Between them, Frank and Dean had recorded many holiday tunes from which to choose.  Sammy, however, didn’t  have a large Christmas catalog.  Still, he’s featured on the album singing The Christmas Song, Jingle Bells, and a song called Christmastime All Over The World, which was previously unreleased.

After the initial release of Christmas With The Rat Pack, Capitol Records reportedly received complaints from conservative religious groups about the cover, even though it’s pretty innocent.  In response to the criticism, the cover was changed to a more generic image, as seen below.

Each December, at today’s tributes to the Rat Pack, Christmas songs are usually incorporated into the show.  And they usually include favorites from Christmas With The Rat Pack, performed in the styles of Frank, Dean and Sammy, by Rat Pack Impersonators.