Fred Waring was best known as a bandleader who worked in film, radio and TV from the 1920s to the 1980s. Once called "the man who taught America to sing," Waring and his group, the Pennsylvanians, recorded more than 2,000 songs, including rock and spiritual hymns.
Besides his musical talents, Waring was an engineering whiz who perfected the device that became known as the Waring blender, which became a common appliance in American kitchens and earned him a fortune in royalties. A medical research version of the device, the Waring Aseptic Dispersal Blender, was used by Dr. Jonas Salk in developing the polio vaccine.
Waring was a musical pioneer, recording the first electronic music album, appearing in Hollywood's first talking pictures and starring in one of the first big movie musicals, "Syncopation."
Between 1940 and 1945, Waring's Pennsylvanians hosted the nation's most popular musical radio show. During that period he recorded a then-obscure Civil War period song called "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and made it a hit, and is thus credited with adding this standard patriotic song to the American repertoire.
In the late 1940s, Waring was the first bandleader to have his own TV show, which was carried five nights a week during prime time, although he never became a permanent media fixture like the younger Lawrence Welk.
The Pennsylvanians were known for their intricate sets and choreography and for the way Waring taught them to blend sounds and enunciate their words. He was a stickler for crystal-clear diction and demanded that his glee club sing each syllable of a song. He said he taught the same thing to his students at Penn State University workshops — "to relax their attacks on words and eliminate the ugly sounds when they can."
Waring turned to teaching later in life partly out of regret that younger generations didn't know much about his music. "The kids today are saying things dynamically but not emotionally. If a song is sentimental, why scream? After all, you don't get on a P.A. system and yell, 'I love you.' You whisper it in her ear."
He left TV in the 1950s to do road shows, traveling six months a year to 150 cities and dozens of colleges. Legions of loyal fans flocked to see his variety show, which offered clean, well-paced entertainment featuring Waring's wisecracks and shenanigans as well as his slick arrangements. The company was always neatly dressed, clean-shaven and full of smiles.
During the 1960s antiwar movement, Waring remained true-blue, belting out patriotic songs on his tours and even drawing giddy applause when he remarked about draft-resisters: "We don't get mad enough at these demonstrators at home. If they want to burn their draft cards, let them, but let's throw them on the fire too."
Over the years, the group starred on its own and accompanied some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Hoagy Carmichael and Irving Berlin. There were often more than 70 singers and musicians on his tours. Although the band was smaller by the 1970s, he continued to work. He died barely 24 hours after his final performance, which was leading 220 teenagers in a concert concluding a two-week summer session at the Fred Waring Youth Choral Workshop at Penn State.
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