WNEW disk jockey Martin Block called it 1953's "biggest turkey of the year," but many people still fondly remember this unusual record today. It is "God Bless Us All," a semi-religious novelty song by six-year-old Brucie Weil that sparked a media frenzy and led to a brief recording and acting career for the young performer.
A star is born
|Brucie's parents listen to him sing|
Wanting to exploit their own child's talent, Brucie's parents contacted the songwriters Tom Murray and Tony Burrello (Anthony Tamburello), who came up with the song "God Bless Us All." These were the guys who started the Horrible Records label to release bizarre novelties like the 1953 tune "There's a New Sound," (listen here), a record worthy of David Seville.
The parents then hired a press agent, a tax advisor, and a lawyer, and labels allegedly scrambled to sign the suddenly up-and-coming Brucie to a recording contract.
But when "God Bless Us All" was released, it appeared on the independent Barbour Records label, with some copies pressed on red vinyl. This single seems to be the label's only release, although Billboard reported in 1953 that a Barbour Records signed singer Dick Duane to a recording contract and, in 1954, signed Al Bernie to release a "Sparky the Spaceman" single. Whether or not it was the same Barbour Records, nothing appears to have come of either deal. In England, the single was released by London Records.
Music publishers vied to acquire the publishing rights to "God Bless Us All," which was published by the independent Brewster Music. It was called "the bitterest scramble for a tune within the memory of many music publishers"—"virtually all publishers of standing were after the tune," Billboard reported. The negotiations resulted in Chappell & Company striking a deal with Brewster.
To promote "God Bless Us All," Brucie's parents sent the tyke out on the road, and within 10 days he had appeared on 10 disk jockey shows. The marketing blitz paid off, because the single registered at #18 on Billboard's national Disk Jockey chart for one week. The song was especially popular in St. Louis, Boston, and Detroit, Billboard noted, but sales were merely fair in Philadelphia, New York, and Chicago.
Brucie was scheduled to perform "God Bless Us All" on Ed Sullivan's CBS-TV show Toast of the Town, but CBS canceled the appearance so that Jimmy Boyd, another child star who had a competing version of "God Bless Us All" on CBS's Columbia Records label, could perform the song on the show instead. Brucie's dad threatened to sue the network, so as a compromise, CBS invited both Boyd and Brucie to appear on the show to sing their respective renditions of the song. Elsewhere, child performer Gayle Peevey gave the first performance of "God Bless Us All" on NBC-TV for its Saturday Night Review program hosted by Hoagy Carmichael.
Inevitably, the song's publicity prompted other cover versions in addition to Boyd's. Fellow child singer Baby Pam (eight years old) recorded the song for Mercury Records, Molly Bee waxed it for Capitol Records, and Spike Jones cut a parodic version for RCA Victor in which vocalist George Rock sang in a silly childlike voice. Rumor had it that Dinah Shore was going to record a version with her daughter for RCA Victor.
I described this song in the first paragraph as a "semi-religious" novelty, because, although the song evokes a child's bedtime prayer and is performed straight-faced, it also pokes fun at children's naiveté as the child extends blessings to circus acrobats and "every spaceman on the TV set." Billboard described the tune at the time as "semi-sacred." Because of the song's novelty character, Spike Jones was able to lampoon it without being seen as tasteless and insensitive to religious sensibilities.
Why did Martin Block declare it the "biggest turkey of the year"?
Although "God Bless Us All" received a lot of hype in the trade publications and quickly attracted cover versions and a bit of publicity for Brucie, it wasn't a big seller.
Its brief chart appearance was based on airplay, not sales, and even at that, the song wasn't picked up by radio programmers in many markets. Of all the cover versions, only Boyd's got any attention, and it didn't make much of a splash either.
Billboard wondered whether "the Weil disk [would] really happen..." and whether "any action" would "turn up on the song." It didn't. Despite the bidding war for publishing rights, the spate of cover versions, the fight over television performances, and the feverish media coverage, not one recording of "God Bless Us All" registered on a best-seller chart.
Brucie's subsequent career
On the strength of "God Bless Us All," RCA Victor Records signed Brucie to a recording contract in 1953, and he cut three records for them over the next year.
First was his recording of "Bimbo," a song that was widely recorded at the time, especially in the country and western field. Brucie's version wasn't a hit but ranked at #10 in Billboard's 1954 Disk Jockey Poll in the children's record category. He was beaten by Gene Autry, whose rendition of "Bimbo" was ranked at #9. Billboard's review of Brucie's version remarked that "the backing makes the record." (Brucie always recorded with well-known orchestras directed by Don Costa, Joe Reisman, Henri René, and Mitch Ayres.)
In 1954, Brucie was back with "Watch Over Daddy" b/w "When the Red, White and Blue Goes Marching By." This one had a stock release but didn't click with listeners.
His final single was released toward the end of 1954: "Be Kind to Your Parents" from the musical Fanny. Stock copies of this single do not appear to exist, only radio promos, and again, the single didn't attract much attention. Three strikes and you're out, so RCA Victor dropped him.
His recording career was finished, but that wasn't the last of Brucie. In 1955-56, he appeared in two episodes of the ABC-TV television series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin before, presumably, returning to the life of a regular kid.
"God Bless Them All" b/w "Little Boy Blues" (Barbour 451, 1953)
"Bimbo" b/w "Poppa Piccolino" (RCA Victor 47-5554, 1953)
"Watch Over Daddy" b/w "When the Red, White and Blue Goes Marching By" (RCA Victor 47-5657, 1954)
"Be Kind to Your Parents" b/w "The World That We Live In" (RCA Victor 47-5884, 1954)