October 2016
Tiomkin honors Mahalia Jackson, March 1961

Last month’s post concluded with a letter from music director Johnny Green to Tiomkin thanking him for bringing Mahalia Jackson to the cast for the incomparable concert “Music from Hollywood” at the Hollywood Bowl in 1963. And for hosting a post-concert party.

Dimitri Tiomkin with John Green and Mahalia Jackson, 1963

Johnny Green, Mahalia Jackson, and Dimitri Tiomkin, 1963

Two years earlier Tiomkin hosted a reception and tea to honor the gospel singer in the week leading up to her appearance at the Shrine Auditorium for “An Evening with Mahalia Jackson.”

The March 11, 1961, concert received a rave by Los Angeles Times reviewer Mimi Clar who noted Jackson’s great scope and how she “can deliver slow spirituals with compelling majesty and deep ensoulment.”

The reception thrown by Tiomkin was held in the Crystal Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel on March 8, 1961. There were “mountains of luscious food” to complement the tea and coffee. Some 200 invited guests noshed on cheese puffs, Swedish meat balls, finger sandwiches, and stuffed celery followed by cookies and macaroons.

Mahalia Jackson party hotel contract1961 was a banner year for the singer. Jackson performed at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy and appeared on What’s My Line? in January; after her March concert in Los Angeles she embarked on a two-month tour of Europe; and appeared in Mahalia Jackson, a television film featuring a series of television studio recordings.

The lengthy guest list included many of Tiomkin’s business associates and personal friends. (The check marks on the list, see first page below, probably denote RSVPs.)

Mahalia Jackson party 1961 guest list page 1Composers and arrangers included Elmer Bernstein, Benny Carter, George Duning, Gerald Fried, Jimmy Haskell, Bronislau Kaper (under the letter “C,” spelled Caper), William Lava, Vic Mizzy, Alfred Newman, William Grant Still, Harry Sukman, Franz Waxman, and pianist Johnny Williams. The latter, now better known as composer John Williams, had worked with both Tiomkin and Jackson.

Songwriters included Harold Adamson, Mack David, Jerry Livingston, Jimmy McHugh, and Leo Robin.

Newspaper columnists included Jim Bacon, Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, and Jimmy Starr.

About the party, Hedda Hopper in her newspaper column quoted from Jackson’s speech, “He [Tiomkin] sent me a song to sing. My accompanist, who reads music, said it was good. I read it but there was no mention of the Lord so I turned it down. Then he sent another of his songs that had words from Proverbs; I love it and am happy to say it’s successful.” Jackson was referring to “The Green Leaves of Summer” from The Alamo.

Mahalia Jackson with TIomkin Getty images

Photograph by Don Cravens, copyright Getty Images.

Lots of industry notables planned to attend including publicist Max Bercutt, director Frank Capra, editor Rudi Fehr, technical advisor Col. Raymond Harvey, singer and actress Eartha Kitt, agent Abe Lastfogel, actor Karl Malden, choreographer LeRoy Prinz, actor Chill Wills, and producer George Stevens Jr.

Among those invited who did not RSVP was Duke Ellington.

The entertainment was provided by the Clemensingers, professionally trained musicians who sang under the direction of conductor Jester Hairston for seven years. Associate conductor James R. Clemens took the reins for the group when Hairston left to film The Alamo.

Tiomkin sat with Jackson the following year at a tribute dinner in Los Angeles on August 5, 1962, celebrating Nat King Cole’s 25th year in show business.

Tiomkin with Mahalia Jackson

Dimitri Tiomkin seated with Mahalia Jackson at a dinner tribute honoring Nat King Cole in Los Angeles, Jet magazine, August 23, 1962

After arriving back home in Chicago, Jackson wrote Tiomkin a thank-you letter for his kind hospitality during her visit.

Mahalia Jackson letter 19620820


Correspondence courtesy Olivia Tiomkin

“Entertainment: Tuesday Weld Will Do ‘Bachelor Flat’” by Hedda Hopper, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1961

“Great Scope Shown by Mahalia Jackson,” by Mimi Clar, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 1961

“Nat Cole at Greek Theater,” Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1962


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