Doris Day is many things. She’s the quintessential girl next door, Oscar nominated actress, celebrated singer, devoted animal welfare activist. She is also a legend who, as she approaches her 92nd year, is still beloved by a large, loyal fan base that grew up listening to her cheery music, watching her popular rom-com movies, and adoring the slice of sunshine that she gave to each of them.
Born on April 3, 1924, in Cincinnati, OH, Doris Day (née Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff) grew up with music as an important part of her life. Her father was a music teacher, a choirmaster, and a church organist, and her mother enjoyed listening to country music. Doris developed a love for dance and became part of a dancing duo that performed locally, but her dreams of becoming a professional dancer ended when her leg was crushed during a car accident.
While recovering, her mother suggested she take singing lessons, and from then on, her amazing musical talent was undeniable. With Ella Fitzgerald as one of her biggest inspirations, Doris began performing with local bandleader Barney Rapp at 15 years old. It was Rapp who convinced Doris to change her name because Kappelhoff was too long and burdensome. Shortly after that, the stage name Doris Day was born.
At 21 she released her first hit, Sentimental Journey, co-written by Les Brown, who hired her to be part of his band after she did a short stint in a band led by Bob Crosby (brother of Bing). It was the mid-40s and U.S. soldiers were returning home from the war, so the timing of the song was perfect.
In 1948, Doris proved how versatile she was by hitting the big screen and making her debut in the musical Romance on the High Seas. She recorded the song It’s Magic to accompany the film and scored another hit song. For the next several years Doris would effortlessly balance a successful music and film career. She cranked out hit after hit including Love Somebody, a duet with Buddy Clark; My Love and Devotion in 1952; Let’s Walk That-A-Way in 1953; Everybody Loves a Lover in 1958; and many soundtrack hits.
On the silver screen she starred in the musical Young Man with a Horn (1950) alongside Kirk Douglas and also played an abused wife of a Ku Klux Klan member in the film Storm Warning that same year. Doris then scored one of her biggest roles as a rabble-rousing cowgirl in the box-office hit Calamity Jane in 1953, which featured her hit Secret Love.
In 1955, she starred in Love Me or Leave Me with James Cagney (a biopic based on the life of ‘20s singer Ruth Etting) and then teamed up with James Stewart for the Alfred Hitchcock classic The Man Who Knew Too Much the following year. The film featured her song Que Sera Sera, which would become one of her trademark tunes and later become the theme song for her TV series The Doris Day Show.
From 1957 to 1962 Doris starred in several successful films alongside some of Hollywood’s most popular leading men. There was the hit musical The Pajama Game in 1957, Pillow Talk co-starring Rock Hudson in 1959 (in which she received her first and only Academy Award nomination), Send Me No Flowers with Hudson again in 1962, That Touch of Mink also in 1962 with Cary Grant, and The Thrill of It All in 1963 with James Garner.
By the late 1960s, Doris’ feel-good, sweet-girl image seemed to no longer fit the darker and more sexually charged path that Hollywood was taking, so after a few more films, including Move Over Darling (featuring her Top 20 hit with the same title) and With Six You Get Eggroll, Doris turned to television.
The Doris Day Show, about a widow who moves her two sons to the country, ran from 1968 to 1973 and earned her a Golden Globe for best actress in a television series. Two years after the show ended, Doris retired from film and devoted her time to being an animal welfare advocate. In 1978 she founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation (now called the Doris Day Animal Foundation) and formed the Doris Day Animal League in 1987.
Although Doris left the spotlight many years ago, her movies and vast music catalog is still revered and cherished by many.
For ‘40s Junction channel curator/programmer Numan, Doris Day is more than the all-American girl next door. To him, she is a multi-talented entertainer and an American icon that never really needed self-promotion because her music spoke for itself.
“I was vacationing in Punta Gorda, Florida in the late ‘90s, and took a sunset cruise aboard a small paddlewheel double decker. As we quietly bobbed through the calm waters of the bay, the DJ started the song Moonlight Bay and everyone on board, mostly retirees, gasped in delight and joined in,” Numan remembers. “The packed boat proceeded to sing the entire song. I was covered in goose bumps with a startling realization of the powerful legacy of Doris Day.”
Happy 92nd birthday, Doris!
To commemorate Doris Day’s 92nd birthday on Sunday, April 3, SiriusXM, in conjunction with Sony Legacy, will present her entire song library (available at http://www.legacyrecordings.com/a/#/artist/doris-day/1413/) with a 24-hour marathon of her music on ‘40s Junction.
*Special thanks to Hindsight Records
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