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Two TV Moms and Musicals – Here’s the Story

By Keith Mason, Ph.D.

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Two favorite TV moms originally started in musicals. Florence Henderson (Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch) and Shirley Jones (Shirley Partridge on The Partridge Family) went on to star in classic TV series 50 years ago. This article’s subtitle derives from lyrics in the Brady Bunch theme. Both Henderson and Jones had big connections to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s musicals.

I enjoyed both The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family in their original run. Others may know the shows through reruns, yet many students may be totally unfamiliar with them. Seventies nostalgia invites screening episodes, especially ones with musical performances. Both series showcase episodes that teach life lessons with storylines featuring the various characters, especially the children (five Partridges and six Bradys).

Florence Henderson was born on February 14, 1934 in Dale, Indiana. She was a very talented singer as a child. She went to New York after high school to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts to pursue a career in musical theatre. She appeared in Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music national tours, The King and I and South Pacific, four of the “big five” Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. She received the Sarah Siddons award for Chicago performances of The Sound of Music. Henderson starred in the musical Fanny (1954). She played the mother Carol Brady in the TV series The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), the role for which she is most famous. Before filming the show, Henderson traveled to Norway to appear in the film Song of Norway. After a long TV career, Henderson died on November 24, 2016.

Shirley Jones was born March 31, 1934 in Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Like Henderson, she was also a talented singer as a child. At age 18, she went to New York and sang for John Fearnley, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s casting director, Fearnley was impressed with Jones, so he had Rodgers and then Hammerstein come by to hear her for themselves. Jones was immediately cast in South Pacific and then Me and Juliet, one of the pair’s lesser known Broadway musicals. Jones then appeared in film musicals: Oklahoma!, Carousel, April Love and The Music Man and stage productions of Oklahoma! and Carousel. She also appeared in the non-musical Elmer Gantry, receiving the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Jones then appeared in The Partridge Family (1970-1974) as the mother and later made many other TV appearances.

Learning Scenarios

Students can explore the musical performances and careers related to Henderson and Jones online:

  • Florence Henderson In what ways did childhood influence Florence Henderson’s musical career? In which musicals did Henderson appear?
  • Shirley Jones Research the childhood of Shirley Jones in terms of her musical career. In what musicals did Jones appear?
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein In which Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals did Henderson and Jones separately appear? How many musicals did Rodgers and Hammerstein create? Which were considered their “big five”?
  • The Brady Bunch Research the TV show The Brady Bunch. When did it run? What was its premise? What role did Florence Henderson play?
  • The Partridge Family Find out about the TV show The Partridge Family. When did it run? What was its premise? What role did Shirley Jones play?
  • Theme Songs Analyze the theme songs for The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. Make sure to consider both versions of the Partridge Family theme (“When We’re Singing” versus “Come on Get Happy”). What do the lyrics reveal about the shows? What instruments are used in their orchestrations?
  • Recordings Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones, The Brady Kids, and The Partridge Family recorded numerous albums. Research the recordings of Henderson and Jones, especially show tunes. What songs by The Brady Kids and The Partridge Family charted as popular radio hits? David Cassidy, the oldest Partridge Keith, was a teen idol who performed as a solo artist. Also consider recordings by The Cowsills, the musical group that inspired the series The Partridge Family. Students can learn to sing one or more songs by the above artists.

Florence Henderson and Shirley Jones were first big stars of musicals. Their contributions to music and popular culture are noteworthy as we mark the 50th anniversary of their classic TV series.

Keith Mason, Ph.D. writes extensively about musicals in the curriculum and commemorates milestone anniversaries of musicians and musicals.

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