Saturday, August 29, 2009


Known for his bisexual chic just before the AIDS pandemic broke up the party, cabaret singer and recording artist Peter Allen managed to record duets with some of the most popular lesbians of his time: Dusty Springfield backed him up on “Back Doors Crying”, Lesley Gore on “She Loves to Hear the Music”, and Frances Faye on “Just A Gigolo.” Though I was familiar with Dusty and Lesley, Frances Faye came as a revelation. Her sassy, upbeat, comic delivery scored this side of sophisticated. Recently, I was watching Bruce Weber’s Chop Suey (2001) and was pleased to see his tribute to Frances Faye, if not startled to discover she played the madam in Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978).

As Bob Downe writes at YouTube: “Frances Faye (1912-1991) was one of the world's most loved and enduring nightclub entertainers, with a career spanning the late 1920s to 1980. She hit her stride on New York's 52nd Street in the '30s, becoming known as the ‘Zazou-zaz’ gal as she thumped the piano and belted out her funny, racy blues and jazz songs.”

Here's rare footage of Frances from 1942, singing and playing her own hit composition, “Well All Right!”, which became a hit for the Andrew Sisters.

Do you think brandy is fattening? Here Frances teams up with Martha Raye and Bing Crosby for a hot scat session.

Frances Faye rarely appeared on TV. One amazing exception was her 1956 NBC duet with Mel Torme singing from Porgy and Bess.

In 1960 she appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show where she sang a medley of “Darktown Strutter’s Ball” and “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate.” As Bob Downe notes at YouTube, Frances Faye was riding high in 1960. She had shattered Peggy Lee's record at New York's Basin Street East and had released perhaps the greatest Live album ever made:
Caught In the Act, recorded at the Thunderbird in Las Vegas.

Also in 1960, she appeared on Hugh Hefner’s Playboy’s Penthouse, singing "The Man I Love", "Just In Time", "Shimmy Like My Sister Kate" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." This performance is a perfect example of Faye's famous double entendres and references to homosexuality and lesbianism. An admitted bisexual herself, involved with lifelong partner Teri Shepherd, Faye frequently hinted at this frequently in her act. On national television, she would often playfully alter pronouns in love songs or weave her girlfriend's name into the lyrics of song. For instance, in this performance she's inserted "it's a Teri, Teri day" into "The Man I Love" and in her Ed Sullivan performance she sang "why do all the boys treat Teri so right" in "Shimmy Like My Sister Kate."

In yet another rare 1968 live broadcast of her act at the Lido in Melbourne, Australia, Faye sang “The Man I Love”, “What Now My Love”, “Darktown Strutter’s Ball”, and a grooved up, boogaloo version of her signature tune, “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate”. She excels at mining humor from truncated lyrics.

Is it true that when you're pretty it doesn't matter how you wear your hair?


"T" said...

What a great compilation and short history lesson on my idol Frances Faye! It's wonderful to see a whole new generation of music lovers discovering this treasure. When I stumbled across FF's live album, "Caught In The Act," a few years ago, I loved it so much I decided to recreate some of it in my own show. A few months later, I was working on a full-blown tribute to Frances. After a year of research, talking to her partner, Teri Shepherd, collecting video footage and rare recordings of live concerts, developing the arrangements, putting the band together, etc... we ended up with a five-week run of "Drunk With Love: A Tribute To Frances Faye" in San Francisco. The following month, we took it to New York City for three sold out performances. It was off and running from there! I am honored to have been awarded by The Manhattan Association of Cabarets & Clubs four times for my work on that show, including a 2008 MAC Award for Best Recording (for our live recording of the show at The Metropolitan Room in October of 2006) and a 2009 MAC Award for Outstanding Female Vocalist. We were given a Back Stage Bistro Award for Best Tribute show in 2007, and Time Out New York Magazine named us to their Top Ten Best Cabaret Shows two years in a row! I continue to pay tribute to La Faye every month in my act at The Iridium Jazz Club in New York City where I appear with my 8-piece "little big band." I also have the distinct joy and pleasure of playing with the greatest Latin percussionist in the music business, Mr. Jack Costanzo, who played on Frances Faye's live "Caught In The Act" LP over 50 years ago!! Jack will be with me and the band in Hollywood at The M Bar on October 2nd, 2009! And yes, it's true: When you're pretty, it doesn't matter how you wear your hair! I LOVE FRANCES FAYE!! Thanks again for this great tribute! More info at the following websites:

Michael Guillen said...

Terese: How wonderful to receive such an impassioned comment. Thank you. I sincerely regret missing your show when it was in San Francisco. Bring it back!!