In July 1945, just after the release of his MGM film Anchors Aweigh, Gene Kelly
recorded an extended version of the film song "The King Who Couldn't Dance (The Worry Song)" for Columbia Records, providing an aural treatment of his dance with animated characters in the movie. The recording was sufficiently successful that Kelly
returned to Columbia's studios in May 1946 and recorded a series of children's material, including a collection of nursery songs, some of A.A. Milne
's poems set to music by Harold Fraser-Simson, and narrations of the stories "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," "The Shoemaker and the Elves," and "Peter Rabbit." Columbia issued the recordings on 78-rpm albums in 1946-1948, reissued them on 10" LPs in 1949, and assembled 12" LP versions well into the 1960s. DRG Records compiled most of them on this CD in 2004, and they remained as charming as they had been when they were recorded nearly 60 years earlier. In addition to his dancing ability, Kelly
's chief strength as a performer was his warm, winning manner, and that is on display here, as he enthusiastically sings the children's songs, inhabits the character of Christopher Robin in the Milne
poems, and really shines in the extended stories, especially the 13-minute "The Pied Piper of Hamelin," which, like "The Shoemaker and the Elves" and "The King Who Couldn't Dance," is backed by music composed and conducted by Columbia veteran Lehman Engel
. It's easy to imagine a child of the early 21st century being mesmerized by these recordings, just as that child's grandparent might have been by the original 78s.