Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success.  He posits that extraordinary people don’t just  “rise from nothing.’  Rather, they “owe something to parentage and patronage,” to where and when they were born, and to an innate ability to take advantage of opportunities.  Timing is a big factor.  Radio was in its infancy in the late 1920s when my father embarked on a singing career. Hollywood in the early 1930s was looking for known talent at the advent of “talkies.” And in the 1950s radio stars were making the transition to the new medium of television. He was able to take advantage of all three media. And conquer them.

 I’ve always liked to say that my father didn’t just have “lucky breaks”—he created them. He was a terrific networker before the term became a business buzzword in the 1980s.  He was gregarious and loved the attention and adulation of his fans. He rarely left a city where he had sung without staunch new friends.  He was a good correspondent with these new acquaintances—dropping them notes about cars or mailing items of interest.  (He couldn’t have done it without the help of his incredible secretary, Catherine Birmingham.) He truly enjoyed the connections, but these thoughtful gestures often paid off, too, in terms of cars or automobiliana for his collection, or special hospitality in far-flung concert venues. His Rolodex was bursting with contacts from every state in the union.

 In 1937, Dale Carnegie used James Melton as an example in one of his columns on “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  When my father tried to break into New York show business in 1927, he decided get a job with Roxy Rothafel, the King of Broadway.  The Roxy Theater not only put on elaborate stage shows and motion pictures, it was also the home of a weekly radio show.  When, after numerous tries, my father couldn’t get an audition with Roxy, he sang right there in the reception area.  As Roxy said, “You’ve got a million dollar voice and two million dollars worth of nerve.”

Dale Carnegie’s column put forth three principles for success:  Find the person who can help you; don’t get discouraged; and do something to get noticed.  That’s exactly what James Melton did, with Roxy Rothafel—and others— and it paid off!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

New CDs Available!

Good news!  My friend in Australia, Frank Bristow, has recently put out three new James Melton CDs. All selections  are taken from radio and TV shows. They include guests like Jane Froman, Lawrence Tibbett, Jo Stafford, Ethel Smith, Jarmila Novotna, Alec Templeton and Virginia Haskins.  Tracks include some rare and historic stuff, as well as old favorites like "Don't Fence Me In," "I Got Plenty o' Nothin,'" as well as a few opera and operetta selections.  Something for everyone!

In the past, Frank has put out quite a number of other Melton CDs: "Vienna to Broadway," Selections from Die Fledermaus, even several of The Revelers (the quartet my father sang with in the late 1920s).

Do check out Frank's website:

If you want to order, he can be reached at : 
Frank Bristow
2 Cross Street, Brighton, Victoria 3186, Australia. 
Telephone and Fax  Number
International: +61 3 9528 3167         

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Dressing the Part

Mr & Mrs James Melton at antique auto meet

Often on a weekend the Meltons would go to an old car "meet."  My parents would dress in the appropriate motoring gear of the era—a duster and veil for my mother, a duster, cap, goggles and driving gloves for my father. (I don't remember being coerced into similar period attire.) One costume I did delight in was a hoop-skirted, off-the-shoulder ruffled yellow organdy number like those the Southern Belles at Cypress Gardens wore as they graced the landscape at that (now defunct) Florida attraction.  There was even a plastic cameo on a black velvet ribbon for my neck to complete the antebellum look.  I think my father was doing some business with Dick Pope, the owner of Cypress Gardens at the time. He was possibly hoping to combine operations with his antique care museum, or perhaps just getting pointers on running a successful tourist attraction.  Here we are in his favorite car, a 1907 Rolls Royce.

James Melton & daughter Margo in 1907 Rolls Royce

Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Surrey with the Fringe on Top"

One of my father’s favorite concert songs was “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”  If there was a willing little girl in the audience, he would call her up on stage to sit beside him as if in an open carriage, while he sang the song to her. If I was in the audience, that little girl was me.

 “May I have a couple of chairs, please,” he’d call to the stage manager.

 “I’d like to sing you one of my favorite songs from Oklahoma. But I need some one to sing it to. How about that pretty little redhead in the front row.”

 My heart would be pounding. I was sure I’d trip getting up to the stage. Oh!  Did my hair look all right? Was my dress wrinkled?  My socks pulled up?

 “Come on up here, little girl,” he'd coax. “What's your name?”

 “Margo? Margo what?—Yes, folks, this is my daughter,” he’d say, beaming proudly.

 I think he might have been almost as nervous as I was. But I knew my cues. I sat beside him, and at the moment when he sings, “I can feel the day getting older, feel a sleepy head on my shoulder,” I would do just that and close my eyes, feigning sleep, while he finished the song.

 This scenario was re-enacted over a period of several years, between the time I was old enough to be trusted on stage (about age six) until I got too embarrassed to do it (probably three or four years later). My mother and I traveled frequently with my father during those years when concerts were his primary focus.