Sunday, May 17, 2020

Don’t Let the Rain Come Down—Murfin Home Confinement Music Festival 2020

Don't Let the Rain Come Down  by the Serendipity Singers.

It’s an all-day rain event in these parts with maybe heavy thunder boomers this evening.  Coming on the heels of a major gully washer two days ago most of northeastern Illinois is under a flood advisory.  It’s enough to make a body shout don’t let the rain come down.  Which brings us to today’s Home Confinement Music Festival feature by the Serendipity Singers. 
The group originated on the campus of the University of Colorado in the early 1960’s as the Newport Singers—a tip-o’-the-hat to the famous folk festival  which they aspired to be invited to.  They performed extensively in the Rocky Mountain Denver-Boulder Front Range region in 1963 before moving to New York with most of their original members to crash the Greenwich Village folk scene.  They were in the mold of other clean-cut groups off the college campuses like the Brothers Four and New Christy Minstrels which sought a niche between folk traditionalists and the scruffy, scary emerging protest music scene.
After changing their name to the Serendipity Singers the group’s rise was astonishingly swift.  New York pro Bob Bowers became the group’s musical director and helped then develop a play list of mostly original material.  Fred Weintraub owner The Bitter End Café featured them in a series of performance leading to appearances on six episodes of ABC TV’s Hootenanny show in the fall of ’63.  That in turn got them a recording contract with Philips Records.  The experience must have been head-spinning.

The Serendipity Singers' self-titled debut album on Philips was a big hit.
In 1963 The Serendipity Singers was the group’s first album and included Don’t Let the Rain Come Down (It Takes a Crooked Man) went to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 list and #2 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.  The song also was nominated for a Grammy for Best Performance by a Chorus 1965.  Their follow-up single Beans in My Ears hit #30 on the Hot 100 and #5 on the AC chart a few months later.  Amazingly that song was banned by several radio stations and the Ed Sullivan Show for “encouraging dangerous behavior in children.”  That was about as controversial as the group got.
For a year or so they were a hot commodity on the TV variety show circuit.  In addition to the Sullivan Show they were seen on Hollywood A Go-Go, Shindig!, The Dean Martin Show, and The Tonight Show. Then almost as fast as their rise came a decline with the full brunt of the British Invasion.  They made five more albums for Phillips through 1965 until cut by the label.

The group was a popular TV attraction.  Here they host an episode of Hullabaloo. 
The make-up of the group roiled with departures of most of the original members and a rotating cast of replacements among them folk singer and storyteller Gamble Rogers who toured with them for a few months in 1966.  In 1967 they signed with United Artists Records and tried to shift to a more electric sound.  They only released one album with UA before the last of the original members left the group in 1970 and sold the rights to their name.
Various line-ups toured as the Serendipity Singers into the early 21st Century, the most successful led by Laura McKenzie which made a series of mostly holiday themed syndicated TV shows in the early ‘90’s. 
In 1999, most the Serendipity Singers’ original members reunited for a concert for the first time since 1966 at Branson, Missouri’s Celebrity Theater as part of the Fifth Annual Cruisin’ Branson Lights Festival.  A number of the group members reunited again for the 2003 PBS special and DVD release of This Land is Our Land: The Pop-Folk Years.  Billed as A Serendipitous Reunion, the group sang, Don’t Let the Rain Come Down, Down Where the Winds Blow, and Waggoner Lad. 
That the same year that the folk music mockumentary A Mighty Wind did a send-up of just such a show.  The New Main Street Singers in the movie were based on the Serendipities and the New Christy Minstrels.

The New Main Street Singers featuring John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch on the left in the movie A Mighty Wind were modeled on the  Serendipity Singers.
As for Don’t Let the Rain Come Down, it was based on a traditional English nursery rhyme The Was a Crooked Man.  The song was first recorded as Crooked Little House by Jimmie Rodgers with songwriting credits to Ersel Hickey, an American rockabilly singer, and Ed E. Miller.
Bob Bowers with group members Bryan Sennett and John Madden completely re-imaged the song as a calypso number for the Serendipity singers.  On the single and album it was initially credited as traditional but later issues on compilation and live albums credited Sennett and Madden as the writers. Shortly after its initial success it was covered by The Brothers Four, Trini Lopez, and Ronnie Hilton in the United Kingdom.

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