Crumit, Frank

Frank Crumit
Official Club portrait of Shepherd Frank Crumit

Frank Crumit (September 26, 1889 – September 7, 1943) was an American singer, composer, radio entertainer and vaudeville star. He shared his radio programs with his wife, Julia Sanderson, and the two were sometimes called “the ideal couple of the air.”

Crumit was elected to The Lambs in 1920. In 1928 he was elected to Shepherd, assuming the position after the sudden death of Shepherd Fritz Williams. He served until 1936.

Crumit was born in Jackson, Ohio, the son of Frank and Mary (née Poore) Crumit. He made his first stage appearance at the age of five in a minstrel show.

Attending local schools, Crumit graduated from high school in 1907. After briefly attending an Indiana military academy, he entered Ohio University and later Ohio State University. His primary purpose for entering Ohio University was to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Dr. C. K. Crumit, who had been a medical doctor. He instead graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in electrical engineering. This career did not last long, as his passion seemed to be music and the old ballads of the 19th century; his love of music and theater dated back to his early years in the Methodist Church choir and led him to pursue a musical career. He studied voice in Cincinnati and then tried out unsuccessfully for opera in New York City.

By 1913, in his early 20s, he was performing on the vaudeville stage, first with a trio and then a year later on his own, playing ukulele; he was referred to as “the one-man glee club” in New York City’s night spots. He appeared in the Broadway musical Betty Be Good in 1918, where he was the first to play the ukulele on Broadway.

He was a success there and went on to Greenwich Village Follies of 1920, which featured his song, “Sweet Lady,” written with David B. Zoob. Crumit began making records for American Columbia in 1919, using the acoustic or “horn” method of recording (he also occasionally added vocals and banjo to recordings by the Paul Biese Trio on the same label). By the end of 1923, Crumit was singing at Victor Talking Machine.

He met Julia Sanderson, then a musical comedy star, in 1922. Sanderson, 38, was sued for divorce in September of that year by her then-husband, U.S. Navy Lieut. Bradford Barnette, with Crumit, 33, named as co-respondent. Crumit was married to a Connecticut woman at the time.

Crumit and Sanderson were married in 1928, and they retired briefly to a country home near Springfield, Mass., but two years later they began working as a radio team, singing duets and engaging in comedy dialogues. The couple starred in Blackstone Plantation, which was broadcast on CBS (1929-1930) and on NBC (1930-1934). They performed as the “Singing Sweethearts of the Air.”

In 1930, they continued with a popular quiz show, The Battle of the Sexes, which ran 13 years, Crumit and Sanderson drove from Massachusetts to New York City, a four-hour trip, twice a week to do their radio show. Their final broadcast was aired the day before Crumit’s death from a heart attack in New York City on September 7, 1943.