Percy Faith - Biography

By Scott Feemster

Percy Faith was a composer, arranger and bandleader best known as one of the architects of what would later be called easy listening or lounge music, but had a varied career that covered five decades and included work in radio, television, movies, Broadway productions and live concerts.


            Percy Faith was born April 7th, 1908, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the eldest of eight children born to Abraham and Minnie Faith. The Faith's raised their family in the Kensington Market area of Toronto, a working class section of town with a large population of mostly Jewish immigrants. Percy's father was a tailor, but he had an uncle who was a violinist, and the boy started taking lessons from his uncle at the age of seven. Soon after he switched to piano, and spent the next few years immersed in playing and studying music. By the time he was eleven, he was ready to give his first public performance at the Iola Flicker movie theater in Toronto's east end. Soon after, young Faith began studying classical music with Frank Welsman at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, and at the age of fifteen made his concert debut at the prestigious Massey Hall, one of the city's premier venues. During this time, Faith also made extra money playing piano in movie theaters as an accompanist to silent films. Faith seemed to have a promising career ahead of him as a concert pianist, but at the age of eighteen those plans were derailed due to an accident. While at home, somehow his younger sister's clothing caught on fire, and Percy was able to put out the fire with his hands. Though he saved his sister's life, his hands were badly damaged and he wasn't able to play the piano for nine months. Because of the accident, Faith became more interested in arranging and composing, and started taking jobs as a conductor for theater and hotel orchestras. It was around this time that Faith dropped out of Toronto Conservatory of Music without finishing his degree. Also, around the time Faith was establishing himself post-accident, he met Mary Palange, and the two fell in love and married in 1928. The two would stay married the rest of Faith's life and would produce two children.


            Though Faith lacked a formal degree, his experience conducting in the Toronto area led to him landing a position as an arranger and conductor for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in the early 1930's. Faith spent the next few years backing vocalists and soloists and composing incidental music, and eventually, in 1937, landed his own show, Music by Faith. The show was a hit in Canada, and was soon picked up by the Mutual Radio Network in the United States. Soon Faith was one of the best known orchestra conductors in North America. He was appointed the music director for the CBC broadcasts of King George VI's royal visit to Canada in 1939, and later conducted the CBC Orchestra at Massey Hall accompanying American pianist Oscar Levant. The concert concluded with nine encores and cemented Faith's reputation as a world class and innovative conductor.


            Music By Faith continued it's run on the CBC and the Mutual Network through 1940, until Faith moved to Chicago and took over the NBC program Carnation Contented Hour after its conductor, Josef Pasternak, died of a heart attack. Faith later claimed he left the CBC because of budget cuts and what he felt was an underlying feeling of anti-Semitism at the network. Faith stayed briefly in Chicago, then moved on to New York City in 1941. At around the same time, Faith began the naturalization process and soon after became an American citizen. He stayed with the NBC network through 1947, then moved to CBS and became the musical director of the Coca-Cola sponsored show The Pause That Refreshes, and, later, The Woolworth Hour. Faith remained associated with the network through the 50's. During the late 40's, Faith began recording for various labels, including Decca and RCA Victor, but it was his association with with Columbia Records, started in 1950 with the album Your Dance Date with Percy Faith, that came to define the remainder of his career. Faith would go on to release over 60 albums of material with Columbia over the next quarter century. In 1951, Faith was appointed the label's musical director in charge of artists and repertoire, and soon became known for his ability to match singers with hit songs and come up with the right backing and orchestration. Faith suggested to Columbia artist Tony Bennett that he cover the song “Because Of You”, and it became a million-selling hit for the artist who, up to that time, had been struggling to score a hit record. Faith worked with Rosemary Clooney on her huge hit “Come On-a My House,” and also worked extensively with Johnny Mathis and Sarah Vaughan. Doris Day was so impressed with the work she did with Faith that she insisted he work on the score for her dramatic breakthrough film Love Me Or Leave Me. His work on the score, (with collaborator Georgie Stoll), earned him an Academy Award nomination in 1955. Faith himself had a major hit in 1952 with the song “Delicado,” a song that eventually went to #1 on the pop charts, and had another hit the following year with an orchestral version of the movie theme from the film Moulin Rouge, often titled “Where Is Your Heart?”


            Through the 1950's and continuing through the 1960's, Percy Faith not only kept his A&R duties at Columbia, but also produced at least one to three solo albums a year for the label. Highlights from the 50's include Music Until Midnight (1953), Music of Christmas (1954), Continental Music (1954), Girl Meets Boy (1955), Passport To Romance (1956), The Most Happy Fella (1956), Jubilation (1957), Viva! The Music of Mexico (1958), Malaguena (1958), Porgy and Bess (1959) and Bouquet (1959). In 1960, Faith and his family moved to Los Angeles from New York. Faith continued his phenomenal recording pace through the 60's, scoring a major hit with his arrangement of Max Steiner's “Theme from A Summer Place” in 1960, which garnered Faith a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Faith continued to release a diverse collection of albums during the 60's for Columbia, including his instrumental interpretations of Broadway shows Camelot (1960) and The Sound Of Music (1960), excursions into Latin themes with The Music Of Brazil! (1962) and Latin Themes for Young Lovers (1965), his interpretations of movie themes such as Theme from The 'In' Crowd (1966) and Plays the Academy Award Winner Born Free and Other Great Movie Themes (1967) and his easy-listening albums of his interpretations of pop hits of the day such as Today's Themes for Young Lovers (1967) and For Those In Love (1968). At the end of the decade, Faith earned another Grammy for his interpretation of the Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet (1969). Though Faith's albums continued to sell well through the end of the decade, he was often written off by critics who found his billowy, string-drenched treatments of popular songs too pedestrian to be taken seriously. Though the effect could be soothing, further scrutiny of Faith's output reveals that behind the saccharine strings and choruses lay arrangements that were fairly complex and sophisticated. Younger audiences began to turn away from Faith's records towards the end of the 60's because he was seen as playing their parents music and was seen as not contributing anything original or groundbreaking.


            Though Faith had extensive musical training, one could never accuse him of being a musical snob, and he continued into the 1970's producing albums for Columbia of his orchestral interpretations of pop hits including Leaving On A Jet Plane (1970), The Beatles Album (1970), Black Magic Woman (1971), and Day By Day (1972). Faith even dipped his toe into different styles of music, including experimenting with Latin rhythms again on Corazon (1973), interpreting Japanese themes on the album Koga Melodies (1974), interpreting Country songs on Country Bouquet (1975), and even interpreting his themes with a disco pulse on Summer Place '76 (1975). Percy Faith continued recording albums until late in 1975, when he was diagnosed with cancer. Percy Faith died in Los Angeles, aged 67, on February 9th, 1976.



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