Two Tenors

Compare the legendary John McCormack (1884-1945), an Irish tenor whose career spanned five decades, and Brooklyn-born Franklyn Baur (1904-1950), whose career lasted less than ten years.

Both singers recorded many popular songs of the 1920s (McCormack samples here and here; Baur samples here). McCormack’s influence on Baur (among others) is unmistakable, most notably in Irving Berlin’s “You Forgot to Remember.” Baur masked his native accent more successfully than did McCormack. But that is no criticism of McCormack, whose distinctive, lilting voice was supported by exemplary vocalism.

Baur, the original first tenor of The Revelers, was the engine of that group’s originality and success. (Aural evidence of Baur’s influence can be heard on Breezin’ Along with The Revelers, where the group’s innovative, jazzy sound turns more traditional — even “barbershoppy” — following Baur’s departure.) Had it not been for the influence of The Revelers, as they were in Baur’s time, the Comedian Harmonists — an even better ensemble — might not have been formed. (If you’ve never heard of the Comedian Harmonists, you must see Comedian Harmonists, a 1997 dramatization of the group’s history that is both toe-tapping and touching.) And without McCormack, the world might not have come to embrace Irish tenors.

We are fortunate that so many examples of McCormack’s and Baur’s art survive them.