The Music of Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard

By | Jun 8, 2009

Depending upon one’s age will depend on how you remember the entertainment couple Ozzie and Harriet Nelson. Most will know of them from the TV series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet one of the shows popular in early television. Others will know them as the father to Ricky Nelson, who also appeared on their TV show. For the younger generation they are the Grandparents of the Pop band Nelson (Matthew and Gunnar) and actress Tracey Nelson.

Before the TV series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet , Ozzie Nelson was a Band leader and singer in the 1930s along with Harriett Hillard who was the band’s female vocalist and soon to become Ozzie’s wife.

At the beginning of the Depression after graduating from Rutgers, Ozzie Nelson decided to try his hand at an entertainment career instead of continuing Law School. He played saxophone and formed the Ozzie Nelson Band. The band got their big break by edging out Paul Whiteman in a poll of the New York Daily Mirror for favorite band. One story has it that Ozzie and his friends stuffed the ballot box by taking official ballots from castoff newspapers and sending them to the paper.

In 1932 Harriet Hillard was working in Vaudeville. She meet the young Band Leader Ozzie Nelson and he asked her to become the female vocalist in his band. Three years later they married and in 1936 she gave birth to their first son, David. Harriet also worked as a movie actress. She had a contract with RKO Pictures and were in 4 movies between 1936 and 1938. Even though the studio wanted her to continue her movie career, the decision was made to continue with the band.

The band recorded for Brunswick, then Vocalion, then back to Brunswick and finally Bluebird during the decade and in 1935 they had a number one hit with “And Then Some”. Their son Ricky Nelson and Ricky’s sons Mathew and Gunnar Nelson performing as Nelson would also have Number 1 songs. They are the only family with three generations with Number 1s songs.

Ozzie and Harriet and their band were regulars on the Red Skelton Show beginning in the early 1940s. On that show they stuck to big band routines with occasional skits as a married-couple. When Skelton left for the army in 1944, they were asked to develop their own show. Ozzie created a show that was a domestic comedy built around his own family life. Thus was born the Adventure of Ozzie and Harriet which debuted October 8, 1944 on radio. At the beginning the show was built around Band Leader Ozzie Nelson and his wife and featured musical numbers along with the comedy sketch. Soon the musical numbers were eliminated and for the next 22 years be seen as America’s Mom and Dad.

More on Ozzie and Harriet at my Squidoo Lens on them.


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