Jazz Stars: George Olsen

Today is the birthday of George Olsen, an American musician who was especially popular in 1924-1935, the column "Jazz Stars" features a story about the life of the musician. A selection of musical compositions performed by the musician is posted in the museum Phonotheque. The popularity of the musician started the day he recorded the song "The Hottest Man in Town", which later became a hit.

George Olsen was born in Portland, Oregon on March 18, 1893. The young man attended the University of Michigan, where he was a drummer. While Olsen studied, he formed his own band, “George Olsen and His Music”. The band made its debut at the Multnomah Hotel in Portland. Olsen then began performing on Broadway, appearing in the musical “Kid Boots” (1923), a series of elaborate theatre productions “Ziegfeld Follies” (1924) and the musical Good News (1927).

“George Olsen and His Music” was very productive band. The musicians recorded at Victor Studio, and to this day the recordings of this group are among the most numerous that have survived, testifying to the immense popularity of the orchestra. In 1928, Olsen and his musicians played in then very popular Broadway musical ”Whoopee!" by Eddie Cantor, then in 1930, they starred in its film version. George met the actress and singer Ethel Shutta, who sang and danced in “Whoopee!”. The couple married and began performing together, appearing in nightclubs and on the radio. They had two children, George Jr. and Charles.

Olsen signed a contract with the major Victor recording studio in 1924 and continued to manage one of the most popular musical groups recording at that studio until 1933, when he signed with Columbia. Olsen worked with Columbia until 1934. And in 1938, George recorded one music session at Decca Studios. He was the band leader on Jack Benny's radio programme.

In 1936, Olsen became leader of Orville Knapp's band after Knapp died in a plane crash. Olsen was chosen to lead the band by Knapp's widow. Morale problems plagued the group, and in 1938, after many musicians had already left, the group disbanded.

A resident of Paramus, New Jersey, Olsen ran a popular local restaurant there on Paramus Road for many years before he died there on March 18, 1971. According to John S. Wilson in “The New York Times”, reviewing a retrospective of Olsen's recording "George Olsen and His Music" on RCA-Victor, in 1968, Olsen had a restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey, called "George Olsen's". Wilson noted that "Olsen is there every day greeting guests at lunch and dinner... In the background, the original George Olsen records of the Twenties play softly.