Boone, Pat (Contemporary Musicians)
During the 1950s Pat Boone was second only to Elvis Presley in rock music popularity; dozens of Boone's songs were hits, songs written and first sung in many cases by black artists such as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Little Richard.
It seems fitting that the singer, born Charles Eugene Boone in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1934, claims direct descent from notable American pioneer Daniel Boone. A genial southerner, Boone lettered in high school varsity sports, was elected student body president, and was voted most popular boy at Nashville's David Lipscomb High School. There he met Shirley Foley, daughter of country and western star Red Foley. In his first year at David Lipscomb College, Boone married Shirley. Later he would transfer to Columbia University, graduating magna cum laude in speech and English in 1958.
In the early 1950s Boone won a talent contest and was selected to appear on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. This exposure led the young baritone to a year-long string of appearances in 1954 on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show and some recording for Nashville's Republic Records. But it was a 1955 Dot recording, a mellow version of Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," that hit Number One and marked the real start of Boone's career.
Recorded Covers of Early Rock Songs
Early rock pianist and singer Little Richard, for one, claimed not to resent Boone's cover versions of his songs. In an April 1990 Rolling Stone interview, Richard stated that Boone's versions were "a blessing" and added, "I believe it opened up the highway that would've taken a little longer for acceptance. So I love Pat for that." Nonetheless, decades earlier, after being outsold by Boone on the rocker's own creation "Tutti Frutti," Richard put "so many tricks in 'Long Tall Sally' that [Boone] couldn't get it."
In other interviews, though, Little Richard has taken a harsher view. In the 1987 documentary Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, the fiery-tempered Richard admitted to "wanting to get" Boone, who he'd felt was stopping his progress. Boone was interviewed in the same issue of Rolling Stone and took the opportunity to defend himself. Boone pointed out that in those days, 95 percent of radio stations wouldn't play R&B. Boone remembered, "When I covered his [Little Richard's] music, he was washing dishes in a bus station in Macon, Georgia. His record was out there, but it wasn't going to sell enough for him to quit his dish-washing job until I covered it."
Of course a few years later, the pathway paved, radio stations began playing songs by the original black artists. And not long after that, both Little Richard and Pat Boone alike were swept away in the tidal wave of the Beatles. Boone recalled how in the early 1960s his royalties dwindled and he and a painter named Leo Jansen supplemented their income with sales (presumably unauthorized) of Beatles portraits.
Boone always knew that Little Richard touched audiences in away that he could not. He admitted that it took a dozen listenings for one of Richard's performances to strike Boone as anything other than wild and formless. He did not attempt to imitate this style and watered down the impact of Richard's work further by altering sexually charged lyrics. For example, "Boy, you don't know what you do to me" became "Pretty little Suzie is the girl for me." But sometimes the changes didn't sit well; Boone suggested retitling the Fats Domino number "Ain't That a Shame" to the more grammatical "Isn't That a Shame," but the owner of Dot Records rejected this idea.
A "blandly handsome" Pat Boone graced the cover of the August 19, 1957, issue of Newsweek. The singer, hair neatly Brill-creamed, square jawed, dressed in a light plaid shirt and yellow sleeveless sweater, casually fingered an acoustic guitar. The magazine crowed that at 23, Boone had in two years cut a dozen singles selling over 13 million copies. And the singer had signed a three-million-dollar, five-year contract for a weekly TV show, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom. Hollywood was offering the star a million dollars for a multipicture deal. Boone subsequently made some 15 movies, including State Fair, Mardi Gras, and Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Cultivated a Wholesome Image
Among its breathy pronouncements about Boone's career, Newsweek did admit that the star's voice was "quite unspectacular by any standards." Yet even superstar Frank Sinatra was charmed; the Chairman of the Board was quoted as saying that Boone was better than Elvis Presley and would last longer. Noting Boone's membership in the Church of Christ, the article reported that Boone adhered to church rules prohibiting smoking and drinking, though this cost him TV sponsorship by alcohol and tobacco companies. Boone went so far as to refuse to kiss actress Shirley Jones, though the shooting script of April Love called for it. Boone's rendition of the film's title song produced yet another hit.
"Even TV columnists, notoriously tough nuts to crack," reported Newsweek, "respect him." One such nut was quoted as remarking, "Wiseacres say he's corny but he's a good boy.... Hell, he may even get them [the kids] closer to religion." Rehabilitation of youth was, in fact, on the nation's mind: Boone shared the Newsweek cover with a banner headline from an article concerning less successful young men that blared: "Why Boys Killhy We Can't Control Them, OUR JUVENILE JUNGLES." Toward the end of the magazine's profile, a critic proclaimed, "The teen-agers are finally revolting against the musical delinquents.... [Boone's] full of charm, extraordinary poise, and ease. Why, this boy is the new [pop crooner] Bing [Crosby]."
By the time of theNewsweek article, Boone had already fathered three daughters, and a fourth arrived the following year. Their names were Laury, Lindy, Cherry, and Debby. Debby became famous as a singer in her own right, earning Grammys in 1977 and 1980 (for best inspirational performance). The song "You Light up My Life" made her an overnight sensation.
Boone's status as "the good Elvis," with docile hips, a smile instead of a sneer, and his signature white buck shoes, qualified him to publish a teenage advice book, 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty. All royalties were donated to the Northeastern Institute of Christian Education. The book's Number One best-seller success required a companion volume, which appeared in 1960, discussing romance "from first date to love and marriage." The tome was titled Between You, Me and the Gate-post. This book, too, did well. In one passage, "a pretty co-ed" who, lamenting America's materialistic obsession with clothes, cars, and televisions, noted, "It's a terrible thing to discover that we spend more time ... collecting and redeeming Blue Chip stamps than we do in prayer." Boone agreed, though he straddled the fence somewhat by adding that there was nothing really wrong with "a nice TV (especially if you watch the Pat Boone show)."
Ironically, Boone's own marital life fell prey to difficulty. In his 1970 autobiography, A New Song, in a chapter entitled "The Darkest Hour," Boone revealed that though his wife had given up drinking, smoking, and dancing at his insistence, he himself had gradually acquired all these habits as a Las Vegas performernd had picked up gambling as well. Yet Boone would not give them up when his wife asked. Shirley's love for him and the children began to "slip away," along with her faith in God. So Boone, in an emotional confession before a church congregation, began on a born-again path, and his wife soon found Christ, too.
The couple's born-again faith was immediately tested. On a September day in 1968, Boone was forced to fly to Los Angeles to meet with bankers concerning a $700,000 overdraft related to a disastrous partnership purchase of the Oakland Oaks of the now defunct American Basketball Association. Then, calling home, Boone learned that Shirley's father, Red, had just died.
Also that year, Boone's 13-year contract with Dot Records expired. Poised to sign with comedian and television star Bill Cosby's Tetragrammaton label, at the last minute Boone considered reneging, upset over cover art for the label's other new release: nude pictures of John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the Two Virgins album. After much prayer, Boone, ready to opt out of the deal, met with label executives. They were sympathetic to his religious concerns and agreed to a "reverse morals clause"oone's contract would lapse if the record company, not the performer, did some-thing unseemly. Finally, it was agreed that no formal contract would be drawn up. This was fortunate for Boone, as a few months later the label went bust following Cosby's departure.
Preparing to back out of the contract was a bold move considering the Boones' money problems. The Oakland Oaks debt now amounted to two million dollars. Financial advisors told Boone he would soon have to declare bankruptcy. "It's in God's hands," Boone replied, serene in his newfound faith. Two days later, one Earl Foreman walked into the San Francisco bank handling the singer's affairs and tendered a check for two million dollars for purchase of the Oaks.
In the mid-1970s, often with his family, Boone recorded gospel albums, including The Pat Boone Family Album, on the Word label, and on the Lamb & Lion label, New Songs of the Jesus People, among others. He made some television appearances in the form of acne cream commercials with his daughters. Toward the end of the decade, he explored country music in albums such as Country Love and The Country Side of Pat Boone.
Throughout the 1980s, the singer strengthened his ties to the religious right, turning his talents to the anti-abortion movement. In the late 1980s, Boone appeared on It's Gotta Stop! Artists Against the Abortion Holocaust, a fundraising effort for the Christian Action Council. The most striking cut, according to a Christianity Today reviewer, was Boone's "Let Me Live," sung from a developing fetus's point of view.
The always active Boone has not limited himself to singing. Aside from occasional TV appearances and a regular radio show, Boone and family narrated the 1989 Paramount Home Video production of The RV Video Guide, which Library Journal deemed "an excellent introduction to the types of vehicles, both motorized and towed."
"Ain't That a Shame," Dot, 1955.
"I Almost Lost My Mind," Dot, 1956.
"Speedy Gonzales," 1962.
The Pat Boone Family, Word, 1974.
Country Love, DJM, 1977.
The Country Side of Pat Boone, Hitsville, 1977.
Pat Boone's Greatest Hits, MCA, 1993.
Pat's Greatest Hits, Curb, 1994.
New Songs of the Jesus People, Lion & Lamb.
It's Gotta Stop! Artists Against the Abortion Holocaust (includes "Let Me Live"), Diadem.
Boone, Pat, Between You, Me and the Gatepost, Dell, 1960.
Boone, Pat, A New Song, Creation House, 1970.
Penguin Encyclopedia of Pop Music, edited by Donald Clarke, Viking, 1989.
Christianity Today, February 5, 1990. Library Journal, August 1990.
Newsweek, August 19, 1957.
Rolling Stone, April 19, 1990.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Pat Boone Enterprises, 1994.
Joseph M. Reiner