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Greatest Hits volume 1

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Greatest Hits Vol. 1 cover The name lingers in the memory of those who came of age in the 1950s.  The voice, too, hovers in the consciousness.  But it’s all elusive, hard to pinpoint, difficult to place in the chronology of the 1950s.  Betty Johnson.  Oh yes, Betty Johnson.  Ohhhh yes! Betty Johnson.  The Tonight Show, Breakfast Club, “I Dreamed.”  That’s Betty Johnson.

This collection of musical numbers will bring back to vivid focus the Betty Johnson of the 1950s, the vocalist who was a keystone in the decade’s entertainment scene.  She would retire in the 1960s and return in the 1990s to record anew and sing in the spotlight of New York City’s nightclub world.  But it was the 1950s that made the retirement and comeback significant, for in the 1950s Betty Johnson had become the star that would shimmer in memories for so long.

Americans and she crossed paths at countless junctures throughout the decade.  Betty was there to entertain, to dance to, to serenade, to soothe.  She appeared on television, radio, and on a basket full of hits, many of which are included here.     

Unbelievably, Betty was a regular on two of the most popular programs of the 1950s: ABC radio’s Breakfast Club and NBC’s television’s The Tonight Show.  It seemed she touched down at every significant outlet in entertainment.  In the early ‘50s, she tied for first place on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts and appeared at the fabled Copacabana nightclub in Manhattan.  From there followed invitations to the Ed Sullivan Show and every other television variety show on the air.  Her crisp, alluring voice and enchanting, stylish look polished any program on which she sang.

In her live appearances at spots like the Persian Room and the Copa in New York, Blinstrub’s in Boston, the Muehlbach Hotel in Kansas City and the Ambassador Room in Los Angeles as well as on the popular state fair circuit where she drew young and old alike, the critical praised poured out for her.  Billboard’s Bob Rolontz caught Betty’s 1958 show at the Blue Angel in Manhattan: “She handled her singing chores with poise and assurance and showed off a dramatic ability. . . .  Miss Johnson’s repertoire was unusual enough to keep the overflow audience attentive all the way thru her act.  Starting off with ‘It’s Good to Be Alive,’ she turned in a neat reading of ‘The Nearness of You’ and a sexy chant on Cole Porter’s ‘All of You.’  She had the crowd in the palm of her hand with an all-stops-out performance of ‘Something I Dreamed Last Night,’ and then got them again with the simple folk tune, ‘Who Will Kiss My Ruby Lips.’”

And with the high-profile and highly-praised appearances came high-profile pop hits: among them, “I Dreamed” (1956), “Little White Lies” (1957), “1492” (1957), “Dream” (1958).  Of all Betty’s hits, perhaps 1958’s “Little Blue Man” has followed her most closely.  The song about an imp who falls for a grown woman tickled the imagination of kids and adults across the nation.  (Michael Feinstein – a tot in ‘58 – recently asked Betty to autograph his copy of the sheet music.)  The team of Betty and her squeaking suitor (whose part, by the way, was sung by songwriter Fred Ebb, not Jack Paar sidekick Hugh Downs as many have assumed) kept “Little Blue Man” on the Billboard popularity charts for almost four months.

“Little Blue Man’s” success fell right in the middle of one of the 1950s’ most successful chart runs by a female vocalist who sang in the classic pop vein.  The advent of rock and roll bore down cruelly on singers influenced by the Bing Crosby-Ella Fitzgerald era, but Betty, a singer firmly in the Crosby-Fitzgerald camp, weathered the Elvis Presley days better than most.  In the late 1950s, as rock and roll blazed, Betty Johnson's music – which made few concessions to rock – sold strongly.  In fact, if one considers Betty’s fortunes in the late 1950s against those of, say, Rosemary Clooney, Kay Starr, Peggy Lee, Jaye P. Morgan who all, like Betty, started in the business before rock and roll, Betty’s record sales matched and outperformed them.  On a ranking of most promising female vocalists in the late 1950s, Billboard placed her ahead of Eydie Gorme, Patsy Cline, Brenda Lee, Keely Smith and Carmen McRae.  She fulfilled the promise of the magazine’s rating throughout the remainder of the 1950s as she toured the nation’s concert stages, continued to post pop hits, and maintained her prominent place on popular television shows.

For the first time on compact disc and cassette, Betty Johnson’s biggest chart ringers appear in one collection.  Betty’s Hits, Vol. I is a reminder of why she still haunts memories – and why, as her career enters the 21st century, audiences are still drawn to the voice.

Track listings:
1.Let Me Be the One
2. I Don't Want To Go To Sleep
3. Only When I Dream
4. Depend On Me
5. Little Blue Man
6. Little White Lies
7. Betty's Bosanova
8. You Can't Get To Heaven
9. Wednesday's Child

10. I'll Wait
11. I Dreamed
12. Does Your Heart Beatr for Me?
13. 1492
14. Dream
15. I Guess I'm Really in Love
16. Beginner's Luck
17. I'll Hold You in My Heart

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