The First Family (album)
The First Family is a 1962 comedy album featuring comedian and impressionist Vaughn Meader. The album, written and produced by Bob Booker and Earl Doud, was recorded on October 22, 1962, is a good-natured parody of then-President John F. Kennedy, both as Commander-in-Chief and as a member of the prominent Kennedy family. Issued by Cadence Records, The First Family became the "largest and fastest selling record in the history of the record industry", selling at more than 1 million copies per week for the first six and one-half weeks in distribution and remained at #1 on the Billboard 200 for 12 weeks. By January 1963, sales reached more than 7 million copies. Cadence president Archie Bleyer credited the album's success to radio airplay. The album was first played by Stan Z. Burns on WINS radio, a friend of Booker and it instantly became a hit all over New York City. By the time the sequel album, The First Family Volume Two, was released, The First Family had sold 7.5 million copies — unprecedented for any album at the time, let alone a comedy album.
|The First Family|
|Studio album by|
spring 1963 (Volume Two)
|Recorded||October 22, 1962|
March 18, 1963 (Volume Two)
The First Family starred stand-up comedian and impersonator Vaughn Meader as Kennedy and Naomi Brossart as the First Lady. Meader's skill at impersonating Kennedy was honed on the stand-up circuit – with his New England accent naturally close to Kennedy's familiar, and often parodied, Harvard accent; he needed to adjust his voice only slightly to sound like the President. Brossart was a theatre actress and model making her recording début.
The First Family was written and produced by Bob Booker, Earle Doud and George Foster; Booker and Doud were also in the cast and received front cover billing, as the album is officially titled Bob Booker & Earle Doud Present The First Family. The album also featured the voice talent of Jim Lehner, Bradley Bolke, Chuck McCann, Bob McFadden, and Norma MacMillan. It was recorded in front of a live studio audience.
Meader later revealed, "A lot of people don't know this, but we recorded The First Family on the night of October 22, 1962, the same night as John F. Kennedy's Cuban Missile Crisis Speech. The audience was in the studio and had no idea of the drama that was taking place. But the cast had heard the speech and our throats almost dropped to our toes, because if the audience had heard the Cuban Missile Speech, we would not have received the reaction we did." During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cadence Records almost canceled the distribution of the record, assuming America would be going to war.
Effect on popular cultureEdit
Although the comedy album boom was mushrooming by 1962, production of a record imitating the president met stiff opposition. James Hagerty, a top executive for ABC-Paramount Records and President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s former press secretary, said the proposed album would be "degrading to the presidency" and proclaimed that "every Communist country in the world would love this record." After other rejections, Cadence Records agreed to take on the project, and within a month the record was appearing on store shelves, and seeing brisk sales. Within two weeks it had sold more than 1 million copies, pushing past the debut album by Peter, Paul and Mary.
Within weeks, many Americans could recite favorite lines from the record, including "the rubber schwan [swan] is mine", and "move ahead...with great vigah [vigor]", the latter lampooning the President's own words. The album poked fun at Kennedy's PT-109 history; the rocking chairs he used for his painful back; the Kennedy clan's well-known athleticism, football games and family togetherness; children in the White House; and Jackie Kennedy's soft-spoken nature and her redecoration of the White House; and many other bits of knowledge that the public was eager to consume. Kennedy himself was said to have given copies of the albums as Christmas gifts, and once greeted a Democratic National Committee group by saying, "Vaughn Meader was busy tonight, so I came myself." According to UPI reporter Merriman Smith, during a Cabinet meeting Kennedy played the entire record for everyone. At one press conference, Kennedy was asked if the album had produced "annoyment (sic) or enjoyment." He jokingly responded, "I listened to Mr. Meader's record and, frankly, I thought it sounded more like Teddy than it did me. So, now he's annoyed."
The First Family album won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1963.  That March, most of the same cast recorded a sequel album, The First Family Volume Two, a combination of spoken-word comedy and songs. The sequel was released in the spring of 1963. Volume Two peaked at #4 on the album chart in June 1963.
Immediately upon hearing of Kennedy's assassination, producers Booker and Doud, along with Cadence president Archie Bleyer, pulled both albums from sales and had all unsold copies destroyed so as not to seemingly "cash in" on the President's death. Both albums remained out of print for many years, until they were finally re-issued on CD together in 1999.
In 1962, several similar albums were released:
- The President Strikes Back! was an imagined response of the President to the First Family record, written by future Mel Brooks collaborator Ron Clark.
During Lyndon Johnson's administration, Doud and Alen Robin released two comedy albums using actual recordings of Johnson and other political figures to create comedic simulated interviews: Welcome to the LBJ Ranch (1965) and Lyndon Johnson's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
In 1966, The New First Family 1968: A Futuristic Fairy Tale was issued, co-produced by Bob Booker and George Foster, and starring impressionist and comic Will Jordan as the newly-elected President Cary Grant in this political fantasy. Two other noted impressionists also appeared on the album - John Byner and David Frye. Frye's impression of Richard Nixon would later be featured on the Elektra Records albums I Am the President and Radio Free Nixon, among others. Will Jordan's most famous impression - that of TV host and newspaper columnist Ed Sullivan - was not used on the New First Family album. The Ed Sullivan impression heard on the album was done by Byner.
The First FamilyEdit
The First Family Volume TwoEdit
|Billboard Top LPs—Monaural||1|
- Allmusic review
- "The 'First Family' Story. WOW!" Billboard (February 2, 1963)
- Bob Booker and Earle Doud (October 1962). "Album notes for The First Family". Collectibles Records.
- Robinson, Peter M. The Dance of the Comedians (University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 2010), ISBN 978-1-55849-785-6, pp 132-33.
- "Vaughn Meader, Satirist of Kennedy Family, Dies". washingtonpost.com. November 1, 2004. Retrieved 3 April 2006.
- JFK: As It Happened. A&E, November 22, 1988
- Making Fun of the Kennedys|Studio 360|WNYC
- Billboard June 1963
- "'LBJ Ranch' LP Runs Hog Wild", Billboard, November 20, 1965.
- "Album Potpourri", Appleton Post Crescent, January 7, 1968.
- The First Family Rides Again at AllMusic.com