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Frank Luther (August 4, 1899 – November 16, 1980) was an American country music singer, dance band vocalist, playwright, songwriter and pianist.
Born Francis Luther Crow on a farm near Lakin, Kansas, forty miles from the Colorado line, he was raised on a farm near Hutchinson, Kansas, where his father, William R. Crow, and mother, Gertrude Phillips Crow, dealt in livestock and trotting horses. He began to study piano at age 6, improvising his own music when repetitious exercises bored him, and began vocal instruction at 13.
Three years later, he toured the Midwest as tenor with a quartet called The Meistersingers. He began studying at the University of Kansas, but attended a revival meeting conducted by Jesse Kellems and was so deeply impressed that he accepted an offer from the evangelist to become his musical director. During a subsequent stop in Iola, Kansas, young Crow himself was ordained, despite his never having studied for the ministry.
By 1921, the Reverend Francis Luther Crow was in the pulpit of the First Christian Church in Bakersfield, California. There, he organized a 30-voice children’s choir, an 80-voice adult choir, and two church orchestras. Writing and delivering his weekly sermons proved more problematic, and the Boy Preacher, as he was known locally, resigned to devote his creative energies to the world of music.
Returning to Kansas, he married vocalist/musician Zora Layman on May 8, 1920, and the young couple eventually worked their way to New York City. In 1926, he was seriously pursuing further vocal training when he was invited to join the DeReszke Singers, as tenor/accompanist. They declared his surname, Crow, to be un-musical, and so he dropped it and became Frank Luther from that day on. The quartet toured with humorist Will Rogers, with whom Frank spent considerable time while on the road.
Luther joined a popular quartet, The Revelers, as tenor in 1927. They toured the British Isles, where Frank met the future Queen of the United Kingdom and did a set accompanied on the drums by the Prince of Wales. His career seemed to be at its zenith, but he contracted a severe cold on the way back to New York. A long-lasting sinus infection and infected throat robbed his ability to sing for nearly a year. His voice returned in a painfully slow manner.
Frank Luther’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame represents what was to become his chief claim to fame. Early in his recording career, he made some 7″ shellac records for children. Several sets were made for Victor in 1933. In 1934, however, Jack Kapp signed Frank to record for the new 35-cent blue label Decca company. He began by making a series of hillbilly records, but did two 78rpm albums of songs for children a few months later. “Mother Goose Songs” and “Nursery Rhymes,” the first two albums, featured Frank’s tenor voice in brief interpretations of traditional children’s tunes, tied together with gentle and pleasant narration. At one point in the Decca set, Luther introduced a lullaby by calmly saying, “Mother tucks you in, kisses you, and leaves you in the nice, friendly darkness. Mother’s so wonderful, isn’t she? Love her every day you live. She loves you so much.” Two pediatricians told Luther that they had used his record to calm small children who feared being in the dark. Child psychologists began to endorse the Luther recordings. The first two albums sold in enormous quantity, and were pressed numerous times.
Frank Luther’s country music days came to a halt, and he did fewer dance band vocal choruses. He was now in demand as Decca’s performer of children’s songs and stories. Selling even better were the classic “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “Babar the Elephant” sets. A Luther-composed “Alice in Wonderland” album, a true-to-the-original album of songs from Disney’s “Snow White, “Tuneful Tales,” “Manners Can Be Fun,” “Raggedy Ann Songs,” and hundreds more established Frank Luther as the dean of children’s recordings. Decca claimed, in 1946, that 85% of the records for young people sold in the English speaking world were Luther’s.