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Singer Snooky Lanson; Starred on 'Hit Parade'

July 04, 1990|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Snooky Lanson, the modest, genial star of television's version of "Your Hit Parade," once an institution on the American musical scene, died Monday night at a hospital in Nashville, Tenn.

The Tennessee native, who never lost his drawl or easy-going Dixie mannerisms, was 76 when he died of unreported causes.

With Eileen Wilson and Dorothy Collins, Lanson brought the longtime radio standby to TV in 1950.

It had been on the air since 1935, and over the years Lanson's singing counterparts included Buddy Clark, Lanny Ross and an underweight Italian baritone named Frank Sinatra.

Regardless of the medium, the format remained the same through the show's 35-year existence: The seven most popular songs of the week were performed. Their selection depended on sheet-music sales, juke box selections and requests to orchestra leaders around the country.

Although the show's sponsor, Lucky Strike cigarettes, portrayed it as "an accurate, authentic tabulation of America's taste in popular music," the surveying techniques were far from scientific and the results closely guarded.

Songs were played and sung in no particular order except for each week's No. 1, which was the finale. Also on each show were two or three "Lucky Strike extras," generally new renditions of standards.

When a song stayed at the top of the charts week after week, settings had to be revised for the weekly performances. Lanson said he was particularly grateful when "Hound Dog" and "Shrimpboats" fell into disfavor.

After Lanson and other regulars on the Saturday night show were dropped from the cast in 1957 to make room for a crop of singers more suited to rock 'n' roll, he sang in nightclubs and was host of TV variety shows in Atlanta and Shreveport, La. "Your Hit Parade" continued until 1959 and was revived briefly in 1974.

"The show didn't have any stars per se and we all got along well," Lanson recalled in a 1979 interview with the Associated Press. "It was very clean and there was no suggestive dancing. A 5- or 6-year-old could watch it. And of course a lot of people watched it to see what song was No. 1 that week."

Among the songs Lanson sang were "Ebb Tide," "He" and "Mr. Sandman."

"I sang 'Mona Lisa' 13 straight weeks because it was a man's song and I was the only man on the show then," Lanson said.

Lanson also said he was lucky to have been on the hit program where the cast would sign off singing:

So long for awhile . . . That's all the songs for awhile . . . .

"I have no illusions of grandeur," he said in 1979. "I know that 99% of the singers roaming the country then were better than me.

"I know my time has come and gone. I had my time."

Lanson had lived in Nashville since 1967 where he sang at tea dances and similar functions. He also had a syndicated radio show that played Big Band music and sold cars and outdoor advertising.

Lanson first came to the attention of pop music audiences in 1941 after he recorded "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" with the Ray Noble band. A later hit, "The Old Master Painter," helped him land the "Hit Parade" job.

He was born Roy Landman in Memphis and began singing in a church choir there as a boy. He was nicknamed "Snooky" at age 2 for the Irving Berlin tune, "Snookey Ookums," which his mother liked.

Survivors include his wife, Florence; a daughter, two sons and eight grandchildren.

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