On March 24, 1956, this day in music history, Les Baxter had the #1 song in the country on the Billboard charts with Poor People of Paris. It was his only #1 single. It replaced the song Lisbon Antigua by Nelson Riddle at the top of the charts. To this date it is the only time in the rock and roll era of music that two instrumentals have reached the #1 position back to back. The song was written by Rene Rouzaud and Marguerite Mannot, who also wrote the score for Irma la Douce. The song was a hit in France. When it was to be recorded in America, Capito Records France representative translated the title incorrectly. It should have been titled The Ballad of Poor John but it became Poor People of Paris and the mistake was never corrected.
Les Baxter was born on March 14, 1922 in Mexia, Texas and started his music career at the age of 5 when he learned to play the piano. He studied at the Detroit Conservatory of Music but left in his senior year when he was given a scholarship to Pepperdine College in Los Angeles. In the 1930's he became a well known conductor in Hollywood when he began working with personalities like Bob Hope and Abbott and Costello on their raido shows. He was the conductor of the world famous Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel. He also sang with Mel Torme's Meltones. He bagan recording for Capitol records in 1950. His first album for them was Music Out of the Moon and was considered a bit exotic.
On January 15, 1996 Les Baxter died of a heart attack in Newport Beach, California. He was 73 years old.
If you click on the video below you can hear Jack Marlin play a medley of two songs. The first is Poor People of Paris. The song over the years has been recorded by many musicans. One of them is Chet Atkins and Mr. Marlin is playing the song as a tribute to Mr. Atkins. However, on this site I am dedicating it to the memory of Les Baxter.