Swing-era bandleader Freddy Martin was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 6, 1909; a onetime drummer and C-melody saxophonist, his primary instrument was the tenor sax, and he formed his first band while attending high school. According to the Big Bands Database, after graduation Martin accepted a job with a musical instrument company, and when the Guy Lombardo Orchestra played Cleveland, he attempted to sell the group some saxophones; Lombardo declined the offer but he did hear Martin's band, and was so impressed he later recommended the fledgling orchestra for a date Lombardo himself could not make. From 1931 onward the Freddy Martin Orchestra toured regularly, appearing at venues like New York's Roosevelt Grill, and also frequently guested on radio; throughout the majority of the decade Elmer Feldkamp was the featured vocalist, with the likes of Helen Ward, Stuart Wade, Buddy Clark, and Eddie Stone singing with the group as well. The group's signature song was its arrangement of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's B-flat Piano Concerto; its success prompted Martin to adopt other classical themes as well, and with the addition of Bobby Worth's lyrics they later re-recorded the Tchaikovsky piece as "Tonight We Love," scoring a major hit.
The popularity of the Martin Orchestra ultimately led them to Hollywood, and during the early '40s they appeared in a series of films including 1943's Stage Door Canteen and What's Buzzin', Cousin? Passing through their ranks was a series of noted pianists, among them Jack Fina, Terry Shand, and Barclay Allen; other notable alumni included Merv Griffin, who sang with the group during the 1950s. Martin continued performing on radio and television well into the 1960s, and even served as Elvis Presley's first music director in Las Vegas; during the following decade he enjoyed a long residency at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel, and led his orchestra until just prior to his death on September 30, 1983. ~ Jason Ankeny