Today is the birthday of crooner and songwriter Gene Austin (Lemuel Lucas, 1900-1972). Austin started out at age 15 playing piano in a local Houston, Texas vaudeville house. After serving in World War One he moved to Baltimore and formed a vaudeville duo with Roy Bergere; the two co-wrote the song “How Come You Do Me Like You Do?” After the pair broke up, Austin continued to write and co-write popular songs such as “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street”, “The Lonesome Road”, “Riding Around in the Rain” and “The Voice of the Southland”. But his real fame came as a influential and early crooner on record and on radio, singing his songs and those of others, such as “Bye Bye Blackbird” (1926), “My Blue Heaven” (1928), “Ramona” (1928) and “Carolina Moon” (1928). From 1934 through 1944 he enjoyed several small roles in Hollywood films, usually playing the singer or piano player in saloon scenes, as in Mae West’s Klondike Annie (1936) and My Little Chickadee (1940). Starting in the late ’30s he was managed by Colonel Tom Parker, whose greatest success story, Elvis Presley, demonstrated some of Austin’s influence.
To find out about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,