SAVANNAH CHURCHILL (By Steve Walker)

Born Savannah Valentine Roberts, 21 August 1915, Colfax, Louisiana
Died 19 April 1974, Brooklyn, New York City, New York

Savannah Churchill (I always wished she'd kept her given surname of "Valentine") epitomised the sensuous delivery of the typical torch-singer of the 1940's - sassy, sexy and cool. Although she was born in Louisiana, like many of her contemporaries, she moved north at an early age and was raised in Brooklyn, NY. She began her professional career in music in 1941, and a year later made her recording debut with Joe Davis' newly-formed Beacon label, kicking off with two excellent jump numbers: "Fat Meat Is Good Meat" (Beacon 104) (listen to this and others at http://www.group-harmony.com/savannah.htm) and "Two-Faced Man" (Beacon 106), both recorded with Jimmy Lyttel and His All-Star Seven. In 1941, Benny Carter had just downsized his big band to a sextet, in common with many bandleaders of the early 40's due to American military demands upon band personnel. In 1943, he moved to California and put together a new big band and began recording with Capitol. One of these Capitol sides featured Savannah as the girl singer - "Hurry, Hurry!" (Capitol 144) which was released in February, 1944 and a later release (Capitol 165) had her crooning "Just A Baby's Prayer At Twilight". By now she was well-established on the circuit. When Ella Fitzgerald failed to show for an engagement at the Howard Theatre in Washington DC in May 1945, it was Savannah who was called upon to do double duty with a local night spot. During 1945, she signed with New York-based Manor Records and over the next couple of years her recordings with this label established her as a recording star. Her debut, the self-penned "Daddy-Daddy" (Manor 1004) reached #3 in the r&b charts, but it was her next recording at the end of 1946, that established her credentials as the mistress of cool. "I Want To Be Loved (But Only By You)"/"Foolishly Yours" (Manor 1046) were sung in sultry fashion and crucially she was vocally backed for the first time on record by The Sentimentalists (later known as The Four Tunes). "I Want To Be Loved" hit #1 in the r&b charts and crossed over with respectable sales in the pop market. Further recordings followed in the same vein during 1947 and 1948 - particular favourites of mine are "Let's Call A Spade A Spade" (with The Five Kings) (Manor 1061), "Sincerely Yours" (Manor 1066), "Is It Too Late?" (Manor 1093), "Time Out For Tears" (Manor 1116) and "It's Raining Down In Sunshine Lane" (Man or 1152). During this period, Savannah also established herself as a film actress, her movie appearances including "Miracle In Harlem" (1948) and "Souls Of Sin" (1949). By the end of the 1940's, Savannah had changed record labels and was recording with her own backing group The Striders. Her style in the recording studios was not so changed from her highlight years with Manor, and she produced further recordings in the same vein, including "Can Anyone Explain (No, No, No)"/"The Devil Sat Down And Cried" (Arco 1259), and the delicious "One There Lived A Fool"/"When You Come Back To Me" (Regal 3309). A switch to one of the major labels, RCA-Victor, in 1951 briefly revitalised Savannah's chart fortunes, with "(It's No) Sin" charting at #5 in the pop listings, but, in spite of recording such beauties as "In Spite Of Everything You Do" and Una Mae Carlisle's "Walking By The River", her time in the limelight was coming to an end. The fickle market had moved on, sentimental ballads were going out of fashion and male vocal groups were busy establishing themselves as headline acts in their own right. "Shake A Hand" (Decca 28836) was her last chart entry (pop #22) in the spring of 1953. Savannah's career never really recovered, although she continued to play the circuit. Then, sadly, fate took a hand in 1956 when a drunk in the audience at the Midwood Club, Brooklyn fell out of a balcony directly on top of her, breaking her pelvis and causing long-term debilitating injuries from which she would never fully recover. She was still able to record, and in 1961 managed a session for Jamie Records, for which she recorded her debut album "Time Out For Tears" featuring remakes of her 1940's hits and covers of other r&b numbers, but, although the voice was still intact, the arrangements were uninspired and lacked the sensuous nature of her best work. A fan has assembled a fine tribute site at the above-mentioned http://www.group-harmony.com/savannah.htm, where you can view a good collection of photos and Billboard ads, read a complete discography, many with Real Audio files attached, and even see a video of Savannah singing "I Want To Be Loved" from the 1948 movie "Miracle In Harlem". Recommended CD's - Savannah Churchill Chronological Volumes 1 and 2 contain virtually all of her finest recordings. Some tracks are pretty scratchy but, if you enjoy Savannah's work, they are pretty well essential. Available from: http://www.group-harmony.com/CD.htm

 
These pages were saved from "This Is My Story" for reference usage only. Please note that these pages were not originally published or written by BlackCat Rockabilly Europe. For comments or information please contact Dik de Heer at dik.de.heer@hetnet.nl

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