Fred Waring (June 9, 1900 – July 29, 1984), the twenty-first Shepherd of The Lambs, held office 1939-1942 by using a hand-picked committee to run the club while he was busy managing a mini entertainment and business empire. Waring was an important figure in making choral music popular; he was called “the man who taught America how to sing.”
In his time Waring changed the way audiences accepted choral singing groups. Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, his namesake choral group, won critical acclaim, sold thousands of records, and were major stars of radio in the Big Band Era. His greeting, “Hello everybody, and thanks for coming,” warmed the hearts of his broadcast audience.
Waring was elected to The Lambs in 1929. He served as Boy (vice president in Lambs’ lingo) before being tapped to lead the club as the nation plunged into World War II.
Fredric Malcolm Waring was born June 9, 1900, in Tyrone, Pennsylvania. The third child of Jesse Calderwood and Frank Waring, Fred was the wittiest of the bunch and the family comedian. His younger brother, Thomas Lincoln Waring, was elected to The Lambs in 1940. He was raised in a strict Methodist household dominated by a rigid father. As a boy he was obsessed with joining the Boy Scouts, an organization founded when he was 10. He attended meetings even though he was not old enough to join. At 12, Waring became leader of the local Boy Scouts’ fife, drum, and bugle corps, conducting with one of his mother’s curtain rods. The dismal playing of the high school orchestra so repelled him that he refused to play his violin for his school. He took up the banjo instead, and formed his own band.
As a teenager, Waring dreamed of enrolling at Pennsylvania State University and joining the college glee club. Both dreams seemed unattainable, since his father would not support him financially and he was rejected from the club after a tryout. This stung, because his great grandfather had helped found the college and was its first superintendent; Waring Hall and Waring Avenue are named in his honor. Waring was blackballed by the college glee club three times and never admitted. Campus politics, academic snobbery, and his headstrong personality were behind it. The glee club director considered him tainted with jazz.
Waring was the brash young upstart on the block. His cocky attitude and precocious musical abilities annoyed more than a few of his peers, and his teachers. “I guess I was an awfully fresh kid,” he said.This was, after all, the same man who for a publicity stunt walked a bull into a Fifth Avenue china shop. Not a tea cup was broken.
Waring took on a bakery job to pay for his tuition. He dismissed his rejection as a result of “college politics” due to tension that existed between Waring and Dr. Clarence Robinson, director of the Penn State Glee Club. The school didn’t like him, or his “Banjo Orchestra.” However, he did get a brief sojourn representing his school. He was allowed to join the glee club for a Christmas Tour, since the tour lacked a novelty act, and Waring conveniently knew how to play the saw.
The banjo orchestra’s popularity was so high that Waring decided to abandon his education altogether to pursue touring with the band on a more consistent basis. He changed the name to Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. Producers insisted that nobody would listen to a glee club on the radio, but it was radio with its nationwide exposure that propelled the group to superstardom. After auditioning 30 times for network radio, in 1933 the Pennsylvanians were finally accepted for the Old Gold Cigarette Show. The band became the first to have its own coast to coast broadcast. They were one of the decade’s most popular groups performing on radio.
Their repertoire of current popular hits, Broadway tunes, and patriotic and holiday songs appealed to wide audiences. Waring composed some 200 songs including My America; Pennsylvania, My Home State; and his theme song, I Hear Music. Most familiar is his arrangement he commissioned of a long-neglected Civil War song, The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The charismatic leader with clear, blue eyes, and tight, curly, black hair was only 5 foot 6”, yet he easily dominated a room. A stern taskmaster, he sometimes ended the rehearsal day with a warning, “Be on your toes tonight, or I’ll be on yours tomorrow.”
During the Depression, Waring’s orchestra grew to an astonishing 55-pieces and had attained a six-month booking at the Roxy Theatre in Times Square, along with its own radio program. However, Waring was doing more than just performing for a live audience.
In 1936 a man in a wild-looking suit and yellow tie met Waring after a performance. He was inventor Fred Osius; for some reason he believed a show business personality could help him with the device he patented but had difficulty getting it refined and launched. It was a new mixing machine he had designed. Waring worked with him to perfect it, spent time to tinker with the machine, and contracted a company in Ohio to manufacture it. He founded the Waring Blendor Corporation. In 1937, the Waring Blendor made its debut to the public at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago and sold for $29.75. It went on to make Waring wealthy, and the product stayed basically unchanged in kitchens and restaurants for sixty years.
By 1938 the entrepreneurial Waring purchased a mansion in the Delaware Water Gap. He invested in a nearby resort hotel, and then bought out his partners. The Shawnee Inn and Country Club, as he named it, became famous as a golf vacation destination. The inn became a center for Waring and his musical pursuits, and a retreat for his musicians. In Manhattan, ten minutes’ walk from The Lambs, Waring leased the entire 10th floor of 1697 Broadway; at the time it was called the Hammerstein Building, today it is the Ed Sullivan Theatre Building. At his peak he was running from the office the Pennsylvanians, the Waring Blendor Corporation, the Shawnee Press to publish sheet music for glee clubs, his country club operations, music workshops, and a monthly magazine, The Music Journal. Friends said he was go-go 24 hours a day, with girlfriends on the side, as well.
It was at this time in his life that Waring was busy with The Lambs. He is remembered as a good-humored, but reserved and businesslike leader. Elected to the Club in 1929, he served as Boy for four terms and as Shepherd beginning in 1939 for three one-year terms. A long-time Lamb recalled, “I don’t think many people in the club were close to him. He knew a lot of people, but did not have really close friends.”
Waring managed the club by delegation. “I knew I was incapable of handling the whole thing myself,” he said, “So I appointed what I called a ‘shepherds’ committee.’ If there’s something needed doing, I called on the committee. I had little pins made for my committee, a little gold shepherd’s crook, which they wore in their lapels proudly.” The committee in turn had one made for the shepherd–in diamonds. He also had a powerhouse council: Broadway producers Hiram Bloomingdale, Sam Forrest, and John Golden; actors John Barrymore, Russell Crouse, Conrad Nagel, Otis Skinner, and David Warfield. He even could call on dancers Fred Astaire and Ray Bolger, former mayor Jimmy Walker, and in a class by himself, George M. Cohan.
In 1941 he scored a first in Club history by permitting newspapers to photograph a Lambs’ Gambol, for Lincoln’s Birthday. However, his attempt at another big step–permitting female members of the Pennsylvanians to sing at the club in 1942, failed. The Council voted six “yea,” to seven “ney.” The old tradition held: no females other than telephone operators and scrub women would be admitted to the clubhouse.
While Waring’s term as shepherd was brief, it’s a measure of the esteem the Club held for him that his official portrait was executed by Howard Chandler Christy, a long-time Brother Lamb. The gorgeous painting, which Waring adored, hangs in the clubhouse today. It is the only shepherd’s portrait by Christy.
A joke told at the clubhouse was that even his first two wives weren’t close to Waring. In 1923, he married his college sweetheart, Dorothy McAteer, and divorced in 1930. In 1933, Waring married again to Evelyn Nair, had three children, then split in 1954. Waring’s last marriage was to pianist Virginia Morley in 1954; they had one child together and Waring adopted Virginia’s son from a previous marriage.
Waring was friendly with Bing Crosby. Waring and his Pennsylvanians performed alongside Crosby in concert. Early in 1935 after realizing that radio stations were airing his music without paying him anything, Waring with the support of Crosby assembled the National Association of Performing Artists (NAPA). NAPA’s goal was to prevent the unauthorized playing of any records over the air. Paul Whiteman served on the board of directors alongside Waring (President), George Gershwin, Guy Lombardo, and Ray Noble. To his dismay, Waring lost that fight.
Following the establishment of his publishing company, Waring started annual workshops for music educators and young musicians in 1947. With Robert Shaw as his conductor, Waring also formed a male chorus separate from the Pennsylvanians. Waring transitioned to an early family-friendly television program, The Fred Waring Show, launching on CBS in 1949.
When General Dwight Eisenhower ran for office, Waring met him through his brothers, Ed and Milton Eisenhower. At the time Eisenhower was president of Columbia University. The two men quickly formed a strong bond over principles. This helped in Eisenhower’s successful run for the presidency in 1952 when Waring campaigned for him.
Waring is commemorated with a star at 6556 Hollywood Boulevard on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; dedicated in 1960. The Congressional Gold Medal, awarded in 1983 from President Ronald Reagan, was the highest honors he earned.
Fred Waring died on July 29, 1984, after complications following a stroke shortly after completing his final summer workshop at Penn State. He is interred at Shawnee Presbyterian Church Cemetery, not far from his hotel and golf course.
Before his death, Waring donated his archives to Penn State, the school he never graduated from, but had the strongest attraction to (he was made an honorary alum). The collection contains memorabilia, music library, recordings, scrapbooks, photographs, cartoons, and correspondence from seven decades in show business.