Dakota Datebook

Tommy Tucker Time!

Thursday, May 18, 2017


Today is Tommy Tucker’s birthday. He was born in 1908 in Souris, where he was known by his real name, Gerald Duppler. Fans of 1940s big bands might be familiar with his 1941 hit, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.”

Tommy Tucker was one of the most successful orchestra leaders of his day. He specialized in slow dance music for hotel ballrooms, a style that kept him at the top of his profession for nearly thirty years.

Tucker majored in music at UND and graduated Phi Beta Kappa Key in 1929. His first band, Tommy Tucker and His Californians, was formed that same year. They made several recordings, with Tucker on vocals, before breaking up in the mid-thirties. Despite the Great Depression, Tucker flourished when his next orchestra hit the hotel ballroom circuit. During their heyday, the band bus carried an average of 25 performers plus 13 wives. Their schedule was brutal.

The Tommy Tucker Orchestra was also a favorite on radio shows such as “Fibber McGee and Molly” and the “Georgie Jessel Show.” A Tucker trademark was the sound of a clock ticking to introduce his radio shows, with the spoken slogan, “It’s Tommy Tucker Time!”

Tucker’s theme song was an original called I Love You, Oh I Love You. Two other original tunes also became hits: Cool, Calm And Collected and a song that was considered too suggestive for children, The Man Who Comes Around. The lyrics parents found objectionable were, “There’s a man who comes to our house, every single day. When papa comes home, the man goes away.”

When swing became popular during World War II, Tucker tried to make the transition, but the foray failed, so he went back to his tried and true formula, three slow songs, then one up-tempo.

When the popularity of big bands waned during the late ‘50s, Tucker finally quit performing to take a job teaching at Monmouth College in New Jersey.

“Every morning on my way to the college,” he wrote, “I came to a fork in the road. The left fork would take me to the open highway where I had spent a quarter of a century of endless miles and sleepless nights … but the fork to the right took me to the college and home every night.”

Tucker didn’t retire from his second career until he was 71. He died in Florida in 1989.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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