Ernest Aaron "Ernie" Freeman (August 16, 1922 - May 16, 1981) was an American pianist, organist, bandleader and arranger. He was responsible for arranging many successful rhythm and blues and pop records from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Life and career:
Freeman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1935 he began playing in local Cleveland area nightclubs, and also formed a classical music trio for local social functions with his father and his sister Evelyn. Around 1939, he and Evelyn formed a new band, The Evelyn Freeman Swing Band, with fellow teenagers from Cleveland Central High School. Evelyn played piano, while Ernie played saxophone and also began writing arrangements for the band. The band began a regular engagement at the Circle Ballroom in Cleveland, and broadcast shows for WHK radio station. In 1942, most of the band, apart from Evelyn, joined the US Navy together, and became the first all-black Navy Band, called "The Gobs Of Swing", with Ernie as its leader.
After leaving the Navy in 1945 Ernie entered the Cleveland Institute of Music, from which he graduated with a BA degree. In 1946 he moved with his family to Los Angeles, to attend the University of Southern California where he received his masters degree in music composition. In Los Angeles, he played in clubs, accompanying Dinah Washington and Dorothy Dandridge among others, as well as recording under his own name for the Mambo label. After a spell as arranger for Woody Herman he joined the Ernie Fields Orchestra, playing the piano. Other members of the band included saxophonists Earl Bostic and Plas Johnson, guitarist René Hall, and drummer Earl Palmer. In 1951 Freeman also began playing with the Billy Hadnott Sextet, but left in 1954 to form his own combo with Johnson, Palmer and guitarist Irving Ashby. In 1955 they released their first record, "No No Baby" on the Middle-Tone label. They also recorded with a vocal group, the Voices, who included Bobby Byrd and Earl Nelson of the Hollywood Flames (later Bob & Earl).
Freeman played on numerous early rock and R&B sessions in Los Angeles, California, in the 1950s, particularly on the Specialty, Modern, and Aladdin labels, as well as for white artists such as Duane Eddy and Bobby Vee. He played piano on the Platters' "The Great Pretender" in 1955, and began releasing a number of instrumental records of his own, at first on Cash Records. These included "Jivin' Around" (#5 on the R&B chart in 1956). In 1956 the Ernie Freeman Combo and the Platters appeared in Paramount Pictures' Rock Around The Clock introduced by Alan Freed. In the same year he was signed by Imperial Records, where he released 29 singles and seven LPs over the next seven years. His first single for the label was "Lost Dreams", which reached #7 on the R&B chart. His cover version of Bill Justis' "Raunchy", his biggest solo success, reached #4 on the pop chart and #1 on the R&B chart in 1957. He returned to the charts in 1958, when his version of "Indian Love Call" reached #58 on the Billboard pop chart.
In 1958 he Ernie Fields Orchestra, including Freeman, became the house band for the newly formed Rendezvous record label. In 1961, with Palmer, Johnson and René Hall, they began recording as B. Bumble and the Stingers, and Freeman played piano on their first hit, "Bumble Boogie" (but not their later hit, "Nut Rocker"). In the same year, Lew Bedell, the owner of Doré Records, suggested to him that he record a version of a Maxwell House advertising jingle. The record, "Percolator (Twist)", was credited to Billy Joe & the Checkmates and rose to no.10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1962. Freeman also performed with and arranged for the Routers and their parallel group the Marketts.
He continued a successful session career in the 1960s, arranging and appearing on material by Frank Sinatra ("That's Life", "Strangers in the Night"); Connie Francis ("Jealous Heart", "Addio, mi' amore"); Dean Martin ("Everybody Loves Somebody", "Somewhere There's a Someone"); Johnny Mathis; and Petula Clark ("This Is My Song", "For Love"), and becoming musical director with Reprise Records. From 1960 to 1964 he arranged virtually every session for Snuff Garrett at Liberty Records including artists Julie London, Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette, Gene McDaniels, Timi Yuro and Walter Brennan. As a footnote, "National City" by the Joiner Arkansas Junior High School Band charted at 53 in May 1960 was made by a group of studio musicians led by Ernie Freeman. Freeman also composed music for several films, including The Cool Ones (1967), The Double Man (1967), The Pink Jungle (1968), and Duffy (1968); and arranged Carol Burnett's 1972 Columbia Records album Carol Burnett Featuring If I Could Write a Song.
In 1970 he contributed string arrangements to Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water album before his retirement later in the decade. According to several sources, he suffered from alcoholism. He died at his home in Los Angeles in 1981 from a heart attack and is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California.
Freeman won Grammy awards for his arrangements of Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" (1966) and Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970).
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