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Arthur Murray may never have played a note in his life, but as America's premier dance teacher for over 3 decades, he was featured on two series of albums--one on Capitol in the early 1950s, one on RCA in the late 1950s and early 1960s--both of which hold a few hidden delights.
Murray contributed the footprint map to the art of teaching popular dance steps. Starting out as a dance instructor in the pre-World War I dance craze started by Irene and Vernon Castle, he started a mail order business n the early 1920s that offered correspondence courses on how to dance. Subscribers received booklets that proposed to teach readers how to master just about any kind of ballroom dance step just by following a diagram showing a sequence of left and right footprints linked by arrows. He followed in 1938 with a best-selling book, How to Become a Good Dancer. It was actually a pretty crafty marketing technique, though, because the would-be Fred Astaires eventually gave up in frustration and clomped down to the nearest Arthur Murray franchise to learn in person with a professional instructor, the good old-fashioned expensive way.
Capitol's series of "Arthur Murray Favorites" first came out on 10-inch EPs and were later reissued on 12-inch LPs. Each included a certificate for a free dance lesson, redeemable at any Arthur Murray Dance Studio. Les Baxter contributed the Modern Waltzes and Tangos albums, but both are quite forgettable. Billy May got his first chance to record as a bandleader on the Mambos and Foxtrots albums, but unfortunately, for some reason Capitol decided to credit the "Rico Mambo Orchestra." Ray Anthony recorded the Swing Fox Trot album, and Latin bandleaders Chuy Reyes and Enric Madriguera did the Rhumbas and Sambas albums, respectively.
Fred Astaire himself followed Murray's example with a series for RCA Victor, titled "Perfect for Dancing," in the mid-1950s. Each was a compilation of a particular dance rhythm--fox trots, rhumbas, mambos, etc.--featuring a variety of artists, rather than just one group.
Astaire's are harder to find these days, but they must have done OK by RCA, because the label teamed up with Murray a few years later. For the most part, these albums are less noteworthy than the livelier ones on Capitol. This time, the bands are lead by RCA house arrangers such as Johnnie Camacho, Bill Stegmeyer, and Ray Carter. Murray was still going strong into the 1960s, though, releasing a twist album featuring the King Curtis combo, and last but not least, a Discotheque album. Soon after, though, dancing became the mindless hip-wiggling arm-wagging gyrations even klutzes like me can master without a thousand bucks worth of dance lessons, and Mr. Murray waltzed off to spend his sunset years in Hawaii.
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