Wingy Manone and Louis Prima were both Italian Americans who grew up in New Orleans. They both played trumpet and cornet, sang in a raspy voice in the middle of their songs, made their recording debuts at the age of 24, and were greatly influenced by Louis Armstrong. But Louis Prima is the more famous of the two, so Wingy must have been trying to copy Louis, right? Well
The problem with that theory: Louis was born in 1910. Wingy was born in 1900.
So was it really Louis imitating Wingy? Not necessarily. The two horn players both took their similar (and enviable) musical upbringings and parlayed them into lifelong, highly respectable careers. Wingy gets points, though, for overcoming adversity. A streetcar accident took his right arm when Manone (or Mannone, at that point in his life) was only 10 years old. He’d been playing cornet for a few years, but still managed to re-learn the instrument with his left hand, using his prosthetic right hand to hold the instrument. From the cheap seats, no one could see the difference. You certainly couldn’t hear it.
Here’s Wingy playing with the Arcadian Serenaders in 1924.
Nice work, but he isn’t a headliner yet.
By 1930, Wingy had his own band and was even recording some original work. Here’s “Tar Paper Stomp,” a pretty clear influence on Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood”.
1935 was an especially good year for Wingy. The record I found in the archive, “Swing, Brother, Swing” does just that quite handily, and is a classic example of Wingy’s spoken/singing vocal delivery.
The big hit that year, though, was Manone’s version of “Isle of Capri”. What had been a sentimental ballad in Al Bowlly’s hands is transformed into a rollicking, dixieland-infused stomper. Special mention must be made of sibling rhythm section Sam and Sid Weiss, as well as Joe Marsala on clarinet.
By 1940, Wingy and his group had caught the ear of Bing Crosby, who made them staples of his radio show. He also featured them in films like “Rhythm on the River”. Apparently, Crosby was a pretty solid drummer. Check it out.
Here’s Wingy in a 1943 Soundie (film clips played in a jukebox) for “Vine Street Blues”. That’s Ann Lee holding her own with all due moxie. One YouTube commenter claims her to be Lady Gaga’s grandmother, though I couldn’t find any other sources to corroborate.
1945’s “Last Call for Alcohol” can still be heard at the end of the night in bars all over the world, and for good reason.
Manone wrote his autobiography, Trumpet On the Wing, in 1948. One revealing tidbit: many other members of his band were missing limbs, eyes, or other body parts. Some club owners took this as an excuse to pay the nine member group for only eight people, since the sum total of one member was “missing.” Gotta love the music business.
Wingy eventually settled down in Las Vegas, where he continued to perform right up until his death in 1982.