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Walter Schumann (8 October 1913 - 21 August 1958) was an American composer for film, television, and the theater. His notable works include the score for The Night of the Hunter and the Dragnet Theme. (The Dragnet theme was lifted, inadvertently according to Schumann, from Miklos Rozsa's score from the 1946 film The Killers.)

Career

Schumann was born in New York, New York on October 8, 1913. By the early 1930s, he was attending law school at USC in Los Angeles when he abruptly quit his studies to perform in a college dance band. Eventually, the members of the band went their separate ways but Schumann continued on within the music industry, working with Eddie Cantor on Cantor's radio show, and recording with Andre Kostelanetz.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Schumann enlisted, eventually becoming the musical director of the Armed Forces Radio Service. He worked with most of the major acts of the war on all the radio shows AFRS produced during this time. After the war, he returned to Los Angeles and worked in the movie and television industry as a composer and arranger, mostly on several Abbott & Costello films.

In 1949, Schumann was asked to compose a new theme for a police detective show about to make its debut on the NBC Radio network. He began his theme with a four note motif -- quite possibly the second most famous four-note motif after Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Schumann's theme began: "Dumm-da-dumm-dummmmm."

"Dragnet" became a smash hit on the radio, and then television, and Schumann's theme quickly became instantly recognizable. Bandleader Ray Anthony quickly recorded a cover of the theme and it went gold. In a classic episode of TV's The Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and Ed Norton (Art Carney) realize that some money they found on a bus is counterfeit, and that the real owners would come calling. When there is a knock at their door, Ralph and Ed freeze. As Ralph's eyes bulge in fear, Ed Norton nervously hums the "Dragnet" theme.

Schumann also wrote one opera, John Brown's Body, which premiered in Los Angeles in 1953 and subsequently ran for 65 performances on Broadway at the New Century Theatre.[1]

Around this time, Schumann gathered together 20 talented vocalists and "The Voices Of Walter Schumann" was born. The ensemble recorded several easy-listening albums, similar to those recorded by Jackie Gleason, for both Capitol Records and RCA.

By 1955, the prolific Schumann was busy composing and conducting the score to the classic Robert Mitchum film The Night of the Hunter and won an Emmy for his his wildly popular "Dragnet" theme. He also recorded a space-age themed, spoken-word album titled "Exploring the Unknown," and his "Voices" troupe recorded a popular, 19-track Christmas album, "The Voices of Christmas." Singer-actress Judy Valentine lent her child-like soprano voice to several of the holiday album's tracks. The 1955 album was reissued on compact disc by Collector's Choice Music in November 2007 -- 52 years after its initial debut both as an LP and 3-record 45 RPM set.

In 1956 and 1957 Schumann continued to record with the Voices -- a second Christmas album was among their output -- and they appeared on the first season of television's The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show.

However, by the summer of 1958, poor health prompted Schumann to be admitted to the Mayo Clinic, where he underwent one of the first open heart surgeries in the United States. Complications arose following the operation, and Schumann died on 21 August 1958, just weeks before the second season of "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show" was scheduled to begin.

Members of Schumann's "Voices" ensemble were stunned by his sudden death, but decided to continuing performing. They were renamed "The Top Twenty," and the carried on with Ford for another five years.

References

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