‘Fred B.’ remembered as voice of Big Band
For years, Fred B. Cole was recognized nationally as the voice of Big Band, affectionately known as “Fred B.”
Cole, 92, who died Dec. 6 at his Woodbine Lane home, will be missed by his family and many friends.
While his career took him to Hollywood and New York City, where he worked for the ABC and NBC networks, Cole — a “townie” in the best sense of the word — loved his family and the town he grew up in above all else.
Cole, who served as a rookie civilian dispatcher for the Hingham Police Department in 1984, “loved the police, firemen, and everything to do with the town,” recalled his daughter, Cheryl Sherwin. “He was so proud to be a Hinghamite.”
Cole also participated in many activities in his hometown. He held a seat on the conservation commission for many years and was a member of the Hingham Old Colony Lodge, A.F. & A.M. and the Hingham Yacht Club.
He proudly served as the Fourth of July parade Grand Marshal in 1993.
“He considered this a huge honor,” Cheryl Sherwin said. “It was a hot summer day. He got delayed – probably because he was carrying on a conversation with someone — and missed his ride. So he started walking home from downtown Hingham, despite the heat. Fortunately a police officer he knew stopped to give him a ride the rest of the way.”
Cheryl Sherwin and his other daughter, Daphne, recalled fondly their father’s close relationship with their mother, Betsey Cole, his wife of 65 years, and with both of them.
“He was very loving, involved, and supportive of us,” Cheryl Sherwin said. “He never ceased telling us how thankful he was to have us for his daughters, and that was echoed by my mother as well.”
Cole was also a train buff. He took a ride on the inaugural run when the Old Colony railroad went on line during Paul Cellucci’s stint as governor. While he was unable to ride on the Greenbush inaugural train in late October of this year, his daughters often drove him and his wife to the different stations, schedule in hand, so he could catch a glimpse of the train.
Cole had a way with people. “He loved talking to everyone,” Daphne said. “He used to get so excited when he would encounter visitors who were camping at Wompatuck State Park. If someone looked like he or she was lost, he would say, ‘Follow me’ and lead the way in his Blazer. If someone’s car had broken down, he would stop to help and would end up talking with them about Hingham. He was very friendly and trusting.”
Cole often took people under his wing. An example of this, Daphne said, was the time years ago when he picked up two high-school age girls who were hitchhiking. “He told them he was picking them up because he was afraid someone else would and advised them never to hitchhike again because of the potential dangers.”
The outgoing, playful, and inquisitive Cole — with his rich, distinguished voice, was a well-known Boston broadcaster in his heydey, working for stations WNAC, WBZ, and WHDH. He is perhaps best known as the voice of the Big Bands, announcing for the orchestras of Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet, and Chick Webb as well as famous vocalists such as Frank Sinatra and Vaughan. Because every on-air second counted, Cole got into the habit of synchronizing all the clocks in his house or asking his daughters to do it for him.
Longtime friend Thomas Studley, who used to “hang out” with Cole’s brother, Herbie, recalled earlier days when Cole worked at an ice cream stand on Rte. 3A, where the Red Coach Grille once stood and where the 99 Restaurant is now located. “Among the items that were sold were fried clams, and of course we got more than our money’s worth when Fred was on the job,” Studley said with a laugh.
He also recalled that a few years ago, during one of his and Cole’s many trips to various Dunkin’ Donuts on the South Shore, an elderly woman — a complete stranger who was sitting next to them — heard Cole speak and approached him. “I know your voice!” she said.
“Fred’s face lit up and stayed that way a long time,” Studley said. “He had the kind of voice that people would recognize years after he stopped announcing the Big Bands. His voice was it! And it just kept getting better over time.”
Cole continued playing the sounds of the Big Bands while working for WHDH from 1946 to 1967. During the 1960s he traveled New England in the first A&P-sponsored Mobile Studio, which afforded his listeners the opportunity to view his show live.
Many traveling salesmen whom he befriended along the way became members of the Fred B. Cole Huckster’s Club.
In 2001, Cole shared his love for “swing” tunes on Radio Station WATD, when he hosted the first two hours of “Ed and George’s Yesterday’s Memories” show.
While the program usually featured “oldies” music, WATD Manager Edward Perry thought it would be fun to move back to the 1940s and 1950s for a change. “Fred is one of the good guys,” Perry said of Cole when he agreed to join host the show six years ago. “He was someone who understood it was the audience that made him famous and not the other way around. He always respected the people who honored him by putting him on their radio dials.”
That same month, Cole made a guest appearance at a swing dance at Plymouth Yacht Club to help raise money for a public sculpture honoring Plymouth’s immigrant settlers. Cole was chosen to participate because he was considered “a legend associated with the Big Band era.”
Big Band tunes were favorites during and following the war years. “There was a mystique during those times,” Perry said earlier. “They were the legendary good days imbedded with an aura of wonderfulness. That’s the music Fred played.”
As a fitting tribute to his successful career, Cole was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame last May.
To Cole, Big Band music had a timeless quality. “It still has an appeal to thousands of people,” he told the Journal in 2001. “Many of them still enjoy jitterbugging.”