Arthur W. Todd

[ Age 93 ] As half the singing duo Art and Dotty Todd, he recorded one of the romantic hits of 1958, `Chanson d'Amour.'

October 17, 2007|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN REPORTER

Arthur William Todd of the singing duo Art and Dotty Todd, who had one of the biggest popular romantic song hits of 1958 with "Chanson d'Amour" (Song of Love), died of congestive heart failure Oct. 10 at a Honolulu hospital. He was 93.

A guitar player, Mr. Todd and his wife appeared twice on Ed Sullivan's television variety show as well as on The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beechnut Show.

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Todd was the fourth of six children who sang together while his mother played a baby grand piano in the family's Kentucky Avenue living room. His father, a plastering contractor for rowhouse developer Frank Novak, accompanied the group on his violin.

"When I was 10 years old I made a ukulele out of a cigar box, a broom handle and four pieces of wire," Mr. Todd told a Honolulu Star-Bulletin reporter last year. "When my father saw that, he went downtown and bought me the best banjo money could buy. And that's the same banjo I'm playing now!"

During his high school years at Polytechnic Institute, he received a dollar for appearing on WFBR radio with an unknown performer, Red Godfrey, who was billed as the "Warbling Banjoist." He later became much better known as Arthur Godfrey.

"When I graduated from high school, I played banjo and sang in the school play, and two agents heard me. They did the most wonderful thing - they took me to New York and had me sing for, of all people, Irving Berlin. His big song at that time was `How Deep Is the Ocean,' so that's what I sang," he said last year.

"In those days, high-school boys used to dress very sharp - including me - and I was a nice-looking kid. The managing director of the Rainbow Room saw me standing there and asked if I was in show business. `Of course,' I said. He asked, `What types of songs do you sing?' I said, `I sing the semi-classics,' and, by God, that's exactly what they had in mind for the Rainbow Room.

"Get this, I'm only 18, and those agents had a guitar for me there VERY quickly. I sang `Sylvia' and `Trees.' I went to work the next night and stayed there for 14 weeks," he told the Honolulu newspaper.

He played his banjo solo and sang with his guitar. He recalled that during the Great Depression, he was making $500 a week as a teen. After his Rainbow Room engagement ended, he was booked for another 14 weeks at the Essex House, a hotel on Central Park South.

"He had a terrific personality and was a happy person, very friendly with everybody," said his sister Ottole Todd Schaedel of Baltimore. "He was a giving person who always asked me, `Do you need anything?'"

He met his future wife, Doris "Dotty" Dabb, a piano player, while both were performers at a cocktail cabaret at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence, R.I. "She had a gorgeous, beautiful contralto voice," Mr. Todd said.

They married in 1941 and Mr. Todd served in the Army in an entertainment unit during World War II. After the war, the couple worked the lounge circuit in California in the 1940s and 1950s as Art and Dotty Todd. They lived in Los Angeles and performed at the Chapman Park Hotel, as well as on a CBS radio show.

The Todds' big break came in 1958 when their record "Chanson d'Amour" topped the charts across the country. During a three-week period, they made two appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show after two long runs at the Dunes and Sands hotels in Las Vegas.

Composer "Wayne Shanklin stopped us one day and said, `I've got a great song for you.' He had already written some big songs, `Jezebel' and `The Old Man and the Sea.' We were flattered that he wanted to give the song to us," Mr. Todd told the Honolulu Star Bulletin.

"The airplay was just sensational. This was just at the beginning of rock 'n' roll and the old-time DJs hated rock 'n' roll and they jumped on our song."

The song peaked at No. 6 on Billboard's Top 40 list on April 21, 1958. It remained on the list for 11 weeks.

The Todds retired in Hawaii in 1980. They ran a supper club and were active members of the Oahu Country Club and Outrigger Canoe Club.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Mililani Mortuary in Honolulu.

In addition to his sister, survivors include eight nieces and nephews. Mrs. Todd died in 2000.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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