A while back I put up a video of Perry Como singing one of my favorite underappreciated songs from the classic American songbook, “Without a Song,” At that time I bemoaned the fact that my favorite version, by the great (and also underappreciated) Billy Eckstine (1914-1993), wasn’t available. But I found it the other day, and submit it for your approval.
Like Nat King Cole and Johnny Hartman, Eckstine was one of the first black men to cross over into mainstream popularity as a vocalist. As Lionel Hampton said of him, “He was one of the greatest singers of all time…. We were proud of him because he was the first Black popular singer singing popular songs in our race. We, the whole music profession, were so happy to see him achieve what he was doing. He was one of the greatest singers of that era … He was our singer.” Agreed! Eckstein’s voice, richly mellifluous, is immediately recognizable.
“Without a Song” was written in 1929 by Vincent Youmans, with lyrics by Billy Rose and Edward Eliscu. As I noted in my previous post, the original lyrics said, “A darkey’s born, but he ain’t no good no how–without a song.” That racist version was changed by all later singers, including Eckstine, to “A man is born. . . “.
I think that this version, put up so recently that it has only three views on YouTube, was made with Eckstine’s own band. It’s performed at a tempo faster than every other version I’ve heard, but I like it this way: