Somewhat OT: on Louanne and Lena Zavaroni

by Jon Merrill (no login)

My computer was in the shop for a week, and I am just now getting caught up on the Forum.

In 1974 I was a part-time radio DJ in northern Vermont and was also collecting large quantities of 45rpm records from the Billboard Hot 100. I bought sight unseen "Ma! He's Making Eyes At Me" by Lena Zavaroni, which barely touched the chart, but I was totally blown away by the power of the 10-year-old's voice. I definitely thought about the record years later when I began to be equally impressed listening Annie belt-type voices. As far as I knew, NO ONE that young was doing that kind of voice on a record in 1974 other than Lena.

I "leaned" on that record on the air and personally did my best to push it to #1 in Burlington, Vermont, but, alas, I was the only DJ in the area playing it, and it was such a small hit that it never became available in the local record stores. So that was that. I had heard the "Ma!" song as the flip side of Annette Funicello's first hit back in 1959, so I was already familiar with the song. Actually, the song first hit the chart back in 1922 by Ted Lewis when it got as high as #7 and was introduced by Eddie Cantor in the musical "The Midnight Rounders."

The flip side of "Ma!" was "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody," the huge hit (#1 for 8 weeks) by Al Jolson in 1918 and which also was a top 10 hit in the late 1950s sung by Jerry Lewis.

Lena put out an album of old standards later in '74. Louanne was a 4-year-old living in England at the time (where "Ma!" was a top 10 hit), and she and her mother were blown away by the girl's voice the same way I was. That's where they got the idea for Louanne to do the song on The Gong Show a couple of years later.

As Lena grew into a teenager, she continued to release albums overseas, but not in the U.S. I had a friend in Canada who had been an Orphan in Annie there, and she played me later Lena albums that I had not heard before. Lena's voice became more mellow and mainstream as she got older, and she ceased to use the belt that had been her trademark when she was 10. You can sometimes find these old albums on eBay.

That same friend introduced me to the foreign albums of Nikka Costa, who is one of my favorite singers of all-time. Nikka recorded pop versions of "Maybe" and "Tomorrow."

I heard nothing about Lena again for many years until after her death. She was born on November 4, 1963 (one day before Andrea) and died of complications from anorexia nervosa on October 1, 1999 at age 35.

Posted on May 11, 2008, 3:15 AM
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