Eddy Duchin (April 1, 1909 – February 9, 1951) was an American popular pianist and bandleader of the 1930s and 1940s, famous for his engaging onstage personality, his elegant piano style, and his fight against leukemia.
Edwin Frank Duchin was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts to Bessarabian Jewish immigrants, Tillie (née Baron) (1885–March 21, 1962) and Frank Duchin (June 2, 1885–?). He first became a pharmacist before turning full-time to music and beginning his new career with Leo Reisman's orchestra at the Central Park Casino in New York, an elegant nightclub where he became hugely popular in his own right and eventually became the Reisman orchestra's leader by 1932. He became widely popular thanks to regular radio broadcasts that boosted his record sales, and he was one of the earliest pianists to lead a commercially successful large band.
Playing what later came to be called "sweet" music rather than jazz, Duchin's success opened a new gate for similarly styled, piano-playing sweet bandleaders such as Henry King, Joe Reichman, Nat Brandwynne, Dick Gasparre, Little Jack Little, and particularly Carmen Cavallaro (who acknowledged Duchin's influence) to compete with the large jazz bands for radio time and record sales.
Duchin had no formal music training—which was said to frustrate his musicians at times—but he developed a style rooted in classical music that some saw as the forerunner of Liberace's ornate, gaudy approach. Still, there were understatements in Duchin's music. By no means was Duchin a perfect pianist, but he was easy to listen to without being rote or entirely predictable. He was a pleasing stage presence whose favourite technique was to play his piano cross-handed, using only one finger on the lower hand, and he was respectful to his audiences and to his classical influences.
Duchin would often use beautiful, soft-voiced singers such as Durelle Alexander and Lew Sherwood to accommodate his sweet and romantic songs, giving them extra appeal and making them more interesting.
Duchin's 1938 release of the Louis Armstrong song "Ol' Man Mose" (Brunswick Records 8155) with vocal by Patricia Norman caused a minor scandal at the time with the lyric "bucket" being heard as "fuck it." Some listeners conclude that there is no vulgarism uttered, while others are convinced that Norman does say "fuck" (which would explain one of the band members laughing delightedly after Norman seems to chirp, "Awww, fuck it... fuck-fuck-fuck it!").
The "scandalous" lyrics caused the record to zoom to #2 on the Billboard charts, resulting in sales of 170,000 copies when sales of 20,000 were considered a blockbuster. The song was banned after its release in Great Britain. The notorious number can be heard on a British novelty CD, Beat the Band to the Bar.
Late career and death
Duchin entered the U.S. Navy during World War II, serving as a combat officer in a destroyer squadron in the Pacific. He attained the rank of lieutenant commander (O4). After his discharge from the military, Duchin was unable to reclaim his former stardom in spite of a stab at a new radio show in 1949.
On February 9, 1951, Eddy Duchin died at age 41 in New York City of acute myelogenous leukemia. He was cremated, and his ashes were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean.
By the mid-1950s, Columbia Pictures, having enjoyed success with musical biographies, mounted a feature film based on the bandleader's life. The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) is a fictionalized tearjerker, with Tyrone Power in the title role. The film did well in theaters, and was well enough known to be referenced in one of Columbia's Three Stooges shorts: the Stooges' spaceship is about to crash when Joe Besser yelps, "I don't want to die! I can't die! I haven't seen The Eddy Duchin Story yet!"
An anthology of some of Duchin's best recordings, Dancing with Duchin, was released in 2002.
Duchin had one child, Peter Duchin (b. 1937), with his first wife, Marjorie Oelrichs. Peter had begun a musical education with his father and eventually later studied formally at Yale. In time, he became an orchestra-leading pianist in his own right, as well as the author of a series of mystery novels, a presence in high society (into which his mother had been born), and a frequent entertainer (as well as musical director for U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson's inauguration) at the White House and on television. In his 1996 memoir Ghost of a Chance, Peter Duchin wrote about the wholesale fictionalization in The Eddy Duchin Story. Peter Duchin for two decades was married to actress/writer Brooke Hayward (daughter of agent and theatrical producer Leland Hayward and actress Margaret Sullavan), since 1985. After their 2008 separation and eventual divorce, Peter Duchin married Virginia Coleman over the 2012 Memorial Day weekend at the home of Kathy and Bill Rayner in East Hampton.
The Duchin Lounge in the Sun Valley Lodge was reportedly named after Marjorie Duchin by Averell Harriman.