A serious rarity for you all today from the doyenne of bad singers, Leona Anderson.
Now, I’ve written about Leona before but it’s worth a recap, especially as I’ve unearthed a few more details about this extraordinary woman, proudly proclaimed by her own publicity as ‘the World's Most Horrible Singer’.
Born in 1885, Leona Aronson was the younger sister of early cowboy movie star Broncho Billy (not his wife, as stated elsewhere) and began her showbiz career at 15. She seriously thought about a career as an operatic singer before appearing in a number of films - thankfully all silent - in the first two decades of the century. One - Mud and Sand - satirised Rudolph Valentino and starred the great Stan Laurel (as Rhubarb Vaseline, not Vaselino as I originally wrote; Leona played Filet de Sole), another (In the Park, 1915) starred Charlie Chaplin and a third (Broncho Billy's Mexican Wife) was directed by and starred her brother.
By the mid-1950s Leona had developed her unique singing style and made many cabaret appearances sending up opera singers: she once said she chose this career because “Opera singers just can't kid themselves properly; they never can let their voices go.” She recorded a single, Fish, a 78 rpm released by the small New York City label Horrible Records (motto: if it’s really a Horrible Record it’s bound to be a hit) credited as Leonna Anderson which, the label on the disc claims, was recorded in the Holland Tunnel. TV comic Ernie Kovacs heard it and invited her on his show. That appearance led to her recording a cover of the Pattie Page hit The Mama Doll Song (backed with I’m A Fool to Care) for Columbia – of which Billboard wrote ‘her cracked tones, sadly out of tune (have) the same macabre appeal as the miserable chirping of Florence Foster Jenkins’. Both sides of her second (and last) 45 for Columbia, Limburger Lover and Yo-Ho the Crow, later turned up on her RKO/Unique Records album Music to Suffer By. (UPDATE: Leona re-recorded the tracks for the album: the cuts on the 45 are markedly different.)
A short piece on Leona which appeared in the July 1957 edition of Song Hits magazine tells us a little more about how the great lady started her recording career: ‘Leona bills herself as "the world's worst singer", although there are people who have different opinions. Leona says that an artist mustn't expect complete objectivity from everyone - there will always be those who will not appreciate her act.
‘Miss Anderson was discovered by Tom Murray and Tony Burrello, who felt that since the world was apparently interested in buying terrible records, they would help meet the demand. They organized Horrible Records, signed their songs to the Miserable Music Company and released them through Terrible Distributors.
‘She was stolen from Horrible Records by Columbia, who had her satirize other record companies' artists, with sides like "I'm a Fool to Care" and "Mama Doll". Leona wanted to do a recording based on one of Columbia's big hits, but for some reason they said no. Stanley Borden, of RKO-Unique Records, knowing how effective Leona is, signed her to record for them. They have just issued her first album, "Music to Suffer By" (or "The Worst of Leona Anderson"!).’
UPDATE: You can read more about Leona - and her amazing career - in The World's Worst Records Volume One.