Mahlon Clark, 84; clarinetist played with Welk, Sinatra and Madonna

Times Staff Writer

Mahlon Clark, the clarinetist who performed on the soundtracks of numerous Hollywood movies and recorded with artists as varied as Lawrence Welk and Madonna, has died. He was 84.

Clark, who also played a well-known clarinet solo in recordings of “Baby Elephant Walk,” died Sept. 20 of natural causes at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys, his family announced.

At Capitol Records, Clark developed a friendship with Nelson Riddle, arranger, composer and conductor for Frank Sinatra. Clark, who also played alto saxophone, performed on many Sinatra albums, including “In the Wee Small Hours.”

“The days with Capitol Records and Nelson Riddle were very special,” said Clark’s son-in-law, Ron De Blasio.


“Mahlon said Frank knew what he wanted. He always gave the band lots of credit, which is why the musicians loved working for him,” De Blasio said.

“Baby Elephant Walk” was featured on the soundtrack for the 1962 Oscar-nominated movie “Hatari!” starring John Wayne.

The song was a hit for Henry Mancini’s orchestra, which recorded the soundtrack. When Welk later recorded it, he also used Clark.

Born in Portsmouth, Va., on March 7, 1923, Clark performed in vaudeville with his sister Jane when they were children.


When he was 16, Clark landed a professional job as a big band musician with the Dean Hudson Band. That gig was followed by stints with the Will Bradley Band and the Ray McKinley Band.

Beginning in 1942, Clark served in the U.S. merchant marine. He married Imogene Lynn, a vocalist with the McKinley band. Stationed on Santa Catalina Island, Clark was assigned to the merchant marine band, which entertained troops on furlough.

After the war, Clark found work as a musician with the permanent orchestra at Paramount Studios. At Paramount he performed on soundtracks for movies starring Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and in films directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

Clark was an advocate for musicians in the mid-1950s, a time when many worried for their jobs and salaries at Hollywood studios. Musicians feared the studios would end the practice of hiring musicians to play live, opting instead to use prerecorded music.

During this debate, the leadership of the American Federation of Musicians was challenged by a newly created rival union, the Musicians Guild of America. Los Angeles Musicians Local 47 responded by purging members believed to be associated with the rival group, including Clark, who later served on the new guild’s board.

From 1962 until 1968, Clark performed in Welk’s orchestra, which appeared on his television show. After Clark’s first marriage ended in 1966, Clark married Kathy Lennon of the Lennon Sisters, who appeared regularly on Welk’s show.

Clark continued performing until the early 1990s, playing on the soundtracks for movies including “Dick Tracy,” and “When Harry Met Sally.” He also played on Linda Ronstadt recordings and Madonna’s 1990 album “I’m Breathless.”

Clark is survived by two daughters, Deborah Clark of Sherman Oaks and Julie Clark De Blasio of Los Angeles; a son, Kevin Clark of Aptos, Calif.; and four grandchildren.