Marlene VerPlanck (1933-2018)
Date Posted: 2018-01-19
Marlene VerPlanck, who recorded 24 albums for Audiophile in a career that stretched sixty years back into the Swing Era, died January 14. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer back in November but continued to work until a few weeks ago even though the effort necessary to travel to the club and sing took everything out of her.
Marlene was born in New Jersey – her family had an Italian restaurant and she worked there growing up, and was as renowned in the kitchen as she was on stage. She got into the music business at the tail end of the Swing Era - there wasn't much big band action by the early 1950s but she caught on with Charlie Spivak's orchestra and impressed the boys in the band with her singing and her cooking. She fell in love with J Billy VerPlanck, one of the trombonists; they moved up to the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and were married within a short time. Billy was a brilliant man, the love of her life, spent his time arranging her music and much of her professional life. He passed away several years ago after an almost magical sixty-year marriage.
VerPlanck hit the jackpot the first time she recorded - Savoy producer Ozzie Cadena assembled an all-star band for a then-unknown singer - Joe Wilder, Herbie Mann, Hank Jones, Wendell Marshall and Kenny Clarke. She worked around New York for several years and then bookings dropped off with the advent of rock-and-roll. She was fortunately prepared, as she went to work in the studios. New York was the center of the advertising business in those days and a singer like Marlene could work all the time recording jingles; she and Billy worked enough to buy a beautiful home in New Jersey. She was most famous for the "M-M Good" slogan for Campbell's soup and the "Aah" that closed out Michelob commercials.
The revival of interest in the Great American Songbook came at the perfect time for her - the jingle business was phased out by changes in technology and the decentralization of the ad business. She just went back to what she did before and was as busy as the wanted to be for the rest of her life. She joined Audiophile records in the 1970s and was a tremendous asset to the label - she was an inveterate tune sleuth, digging up album loads of neglected or unrecorded numbers, of uniformly high quality. In addition, she worked all the time, including an annual month-long tour of the United Kingdom, and sold a lot of CDs on tour and at her New York and New Jersey jobs.
Marlene finished her career on a high note - her final album, The Mood I'm In (Audiophile ACD-348) won five-star ratings from both DownBeat and Jazz Journal - a rare accomplishment for a standup singer.
We're glad she spent half her life recording for Audiophile, and we're proud of the tremendous body of work she produced.