Sam Browne (born London, England 26 March, 1899 - died 1972) was an English dance band singer, born in London, became one of the most popular British dance band vocalists of the 1930's.
One of eleven children, Sam was born in 1898 to East London Lithuanian Jewish parents. His father had a shoemakers` shop near Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and Sam became a lifelong supporter. His introduction to music came as a chorister at the local Synagogue. After leaving school he had several jobs before reaching the age of 18 during the First World War, when he joined the Merchant Navy. It was on visits to New York that he discovered "jazz" and developed an ambition to become a musician himself.
Back home and on dry land once again Sam bought a drum kit and with a couple of like-minded souls on piano and guitar formed the Tottenham Dance Band, gaining a few bookings around North London halls. As they became more successful other instruments were added and Sam introduced his vocal contribution which came to be the mainstay of the outfit, resulting in a booking at Stockholm Casino that lasted a year.
After this success Sam decided to go solo and found work mainly around various London clubs, including a brief spell in 1921 with Jack Hylton`s Queen`s Roof Orchestra. Later, in 1928, when Jack was looking for a new singer he remembered Sam and offered him the chance to become vocalist with the now world famous Hylton Orchestra and so followed several overseas tours and much recording work. Often in those pre-amplification days he used a transparent megaphone on stage so the audiences could both see and hear him. Sam, always a natty dresser with a voice described as "ball bearing smooth", was an asset to any leader being a rarity among vocalists, a sight reader, able to sing any song straight off the written music.
After two years of travelling Sam opted for a more settled life joining Ambrose at London`s May Fair Hotel, later moving with them to Ciro`s and Embassy clubs, while also doing variety, recording and broadcasting work. Sam stayed with Amy until the outbreak of WWII when, classified as medically unfit for service, he joined ENSA and entertained the troops at home and abroad.
Sam first recorded with Bert Ambrose's band on Feb 8th 1930, the titles were 'A Little Kiss Each Morning' and 'Body And Soul'. The latter (3rd take) is an astonishing recording, a great arrangement the record lasts for over 4 minutes, and Sam's vocal is clear and emotional. It was recorded again on Feb 22nd with the added bonus on a violin solo (Eric Siday). Both takes can be found on copies of Decca M-118 and later re-issued on M-402.
During his ten years with Ambrose Sam also did much freelance work. Some fine radio duets with popular singer Elsie Carlisle earned them a place on the 1935 Royal Command Performance at the London Palladium. Sam also duetted on record with Elsie and other singers and made hundreds of solo recordings with many different bands, sometimes using an assumed name, depending on the label.
From 1940 Sam was associated with the wartime radio series 'Hi Gang' that starred Vic Oliver with husband and wife team Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon, who also wrote the show. He also appeared in the 1942 film spin off from the series.
After the war Sam toured in variety, including a double act with, at different times, singers Judy Shirley, Jill Manners, Mary Naylor and Elsie Carlisle. On one occasion, while travelling by rail to appear with Elsie at the Bristol Hippodrome, someone fired a gun at the train and Sam had three bullets lodged in his neck. A close thing, but he survived.
He did much radio work including his own series 'Sing With Sam' and was a regular on 'Your Tune Is My Tune' with The Squadronaires and 'Songs of the Years' with Rita Williams. He was on the first series of 'Sing It Again', from 19th January 1949, with Carole Carr, Pearl Carr, Lee Lawrence, Johnny Eager and Stella Nichol. Sam continued to record and possibly his most successful release ever, 'Heartbreaker', with Primo Scala and The Keynotes came during this period. 'Tree in the meadow', issued in the States during the musicians` strike there reached No.22 on the 'Billboard' charts.
Times were good and with earnings up to £1,000 a week he moved with second wife Olga (his first wife Terry had died in 1931) and two daughters through a succession of luxury homes. No stranger to race courses and gambling, Sam also loved playing golf.
Sam re-joined Jack Hylton for a special 'Band That Jack Built' feature on the 1950 Royal Variety Show. But a new younger generation of crooners were taking over in the fifties so he formed the Sam Browne Singers, a four male, four female choir, joining Ken Mackintosh on his band`s Sunday morning radio series 'Happy Days'. They supported the Jack Parnell Orchestra`s first airing on 28th September 1951 and appeared on the Royal Variety Show at the Victoria Palace during October that year. The Singers also turned up on a number of discs.
Recordings made during the fifties were rare and mainly with his Singers. Probably his last session was a 1956 LP 'Songs For Lovers' made with Lew Stone`s Band for the cut-price Solitaire label.
Despite the occasional variety tour, a bid to recapture the earlier success of his partnership with Elsie Carlisle by teaming with Jill Manners in 1953, came to nothing. Sam`s finances became tight, putting a strain on his marriage and it broke up in 1955. A night club venture and voice training school had both folded and by the latter part of the decade Sam was reduced to living in a small central London flat. With no singing work he took a job for a time as a clerk in a betting shop, but this came to grief and he eventually finished up in a North London basement bedsit. Ill health finally overtook him and he died from cancer at Highgate Hospital on 2nd March 1972, virtually forgotten. He is buried at Rainham Jewish cemetery. (Info from The Ballad Years)
Sam Browne leads and sings with the Ambrose orchestra at the Mayfair Hotel in the mid 30s