Burton Crane

March 1, 2011

Burton Crane

Burton Crane was a journalist in Japan in the 1920’s and 1930’s who became an unlikely pop star. He released records under the famous Columbia label featuring him singing popular English songs of the time in a mixture of Japanese and English.

I can’t find out how he ended up becoming a pop star…but I like to imagine him having one too many in a bar in roaring 1920’s Tokyo and deciding to give the ol’ pipes a bit of a clearing…

“F**cking hell Crane-san,” says his drinking partner, the president of Columbia Records Japan, who is half slumped over the table in a boozy stupor. “You’re not that bad.”

So (maybe) began a truly improbable recording career. Burton Crane was wildly popular–he must have been extremely exotic– and sang duets with some of the biggest female stars of the day. Most of his songs seem to be about booze – whether he’s about to drink it, wants to drink it or has drunk too much of it (an early prototype of Robin Childs?) – or getting jiggy with the locals, showing that the quality of ‘gaijins’ in Japan hasn’t really changed much in the last 90 years.

He later became a New York Times correspondent, was injured in the Korean War and went back to the US. He went on to become a respected economic commentator, before dying in 1963. His NYT obituary strangely doesn’t mention his singing career in Japan.

What must have he thought as he looked back at the end of his life at his brief interlude as a pop star in Tokyo? I hope it was with fondness, chuckling to himself and wondering how the hell he ended up getting away with it.

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One Response to “Burton Crane”

  1. Beautiful! Thanks for ‘hepping’ me to this intriguing personality.

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