The thought that an African American audience only wanted to see hot jazz on the Panoram screen is, of course, hogwash. It is a concept well-steeped in various stereotypes of Black culture and is easily disproved by just looking at recorded and filmed evidence. In other words, black taste was just as eclectic as that of the rest of the “listening audience,” and one small piece of evidence can be seen in this Soundie.
“I’m Making Believe” is a fine standard by Mack Gordon and James Monoco, introduced by Benny Goodman in the 1944 feature Sweet and Low-Down. Here it is sung by the little-known Warren Evans.
Occasionally billed as “The Chocolate Sinatra” or “Sepia Sinatra,” Warren Evans was a fine baritone singer who deserves to be far better remembered today. In 1941-42, Evans toured with Buddy Johnson and his Orchestra. Like Billy Eckstine, to whom he has been compared, Evans sang with Earl Hines during the war years; whether Evans was a member of the band in 1943 or just shared the theater stage with him is not known. The following year Evans toured as a solo act and was seen on stage with Roy Rogers and Duke Ellington. In 1945, Evans was with Cecil Scott’s orchestra and he appears with Scott’s band in two Soundies. (He also has a solo series of his own which resulted in three titles.) After a recording with Skip Hall and his Orchestra in 1949 Evans apparently retired from music.
Cecil Scott’s big band provides the backing on this Soundie, and we will return to his music in a jazz setting soon. (Sammy Price was arranging for the band at this time, although I don’t think this is his work. Perhaps this is a stock arrangement?)
The focus, of course, is on Evans’s vocal, a fine interpretation of a Hollywood ballad that is not often performed today.