Profile of a Performer: Burl Ives

Burl_IvesIf you watch the animated feature Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer at Christmas time you will remember the narrator, Sam the Snowman.   This snowman is voiced by the powerful vocals of Burl Ives.

Ives goes on to sing such hits as A Holly Jolly Christmas and Silver and Gold in the special.

Burl Ives was one of seven children born to Frank and Dellie Ives when he was born in June 1909.  He apparently learned to sign while working with his mother.  His uncle heard him singing one day and gave him his first invitation to sing for some “Old Soldiers”.   He performed the ballad Barbara Allen to the delight of everyone present.

He would go on to have a long partnership with the Boy Scouts of America, performing for them numerous times over the years and eventually being inducted into the organization in 1966.

By the early 1930s he was an itinerant singer, playing the banjo and working odd jobs to make ends meet.  By 1940, he had his own radio show, The Wayfaring Stranger, and began to sing and popularize various folk ballads.  He was part of the Almanac Singers, which also featured Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger and Will Geer {Grandpa Walton} at times.

World War II was on the horizon and by 1942, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.  He went on to join the cast of Irving Berlin’s stage version of This is the Army.

In December 1945, he married Helen Ehrlich.  They would have a son, Alexander, four years later.burlandsam

He had to contend with being blacklisted as a Communists.

By the 1950s he had a variety of Broadway and film credits adding up on his resume, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, East of Eden and Mister Roberts.

By the 1960s, he’d returned to his love of singing.  After the 1964, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, the Christmas songs he sung became instant classic hits.

He continued to act in films, on TV and in animated features.

In February 1971, he and his wife Helen were divorced.  Two months later he married Dorothy Paul.

Over the next decade he was seen regularly throughout the 1970s and 1980s on the commercials for Luzianne Tea.

He died on April 14, 1995 at the age of 85, at his home in Washington State and buried in Illinois.

Music critic John Rockwell said, “Ives’ voice … had the sheen and finesse of opera without its latter-day Puccinian vulgarities and without the pretensions of operatic ritual. It was genteel in expressive impact without being genteel in social conformity. And it moved people.”