When I was a teenager, I came upon a record album in my parents’ huge LP collection, along with some cassette tapes and even some eight tracks. It was a Reader’s Digest multi-record album called The Swing Years. I can’t recall what made me pick it up and put it on the turntable but, when I did, it immediately made me smile. I soon became familiar with many of the great big bandleaders as well as their lead singers. I even got to hear (and meet!) Tex Beneke, Helen Forrest, Ray Eberle, and Helen O’Connell when they performed at the local summer music venues where I lived. I even have a friend who plays trombone in one. To this day, swing and big band music hold a special place in my heart.
But what fascinated me most were the girl singers, those glamorous female singers who fronted the bands in a gorgeous dress.
Here were some of the big ones in no particular order:
Jo Stafford: beginning with the Pied Pipers , she progressed to lead singer for Tommy Dorsey’s band before launching a solo career with her husband, arranger Paul Weston.
- Peggy Lee: she got her start with Benny Goodman before embarking on a solo career. Lee was also a songwriter, composer, and arranger.
Helen Forrest: this powerhouse sang with three of the biggest big bands ever: Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, AND Harry James before going solo and dueting with crooner Dick Haymes in the late 1940s. Juicy tidbit: she was in love with Harry James before he fell for film star, Betty Grable.
Connie Haines: Tommy Dorsey’s girl singer with the Pied Pipers before Frank Sinatra eclipsed them all.
Helen O’Connell: the lead girl singer for Jimmy Dorsey’s band, Tommy’s brother. Incidentally, Jimmy Dorsey’s lead male singer was Bob Eberly, Ray Eberle’s older brother (who sang with Glenn Miller).
Ginny Simms: also a minor film star (she starred with Abbott & Costello in Hit the Ice), she sang with Kay Kyser and Woody Herman.
Anita O’Day: “The Jezebel of Jazz” sang with many bands including Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and Gene Krupa.
Doris Day: Long before she became a huge film star and, later, an animal activist, Day sang in Les Brown and His Band of Renown.
Marion Hutton: This Hutton was chosen over her erratic sister Betty to sing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
-Maria, with thanks to my co-worker, Tim, for previously mentioning FM 90.5 Rhythm Sweet & Hot, which plays music of the swing era on Saturdays from 6-8pm.
14 responses to “Girl Singers”
Great post!~ Rhythm Sweet and Hot is brilliant. Mike and Dale are treasures, no doubt!
Thanks for reading, e! Glad you enjoyed the post.
My daughter’s viola teacher used to tell us stories of his days with Les Brown and Doris day. You make me miss my father, who played his trumpet with an Indianapolis band. My mother was the female singer. Sometimes my dad was the male singer. They never stopped making music. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Carol C–how fun! Great memories of great music!
love love Rhythm Sweet and Hot! And wow, thanks for the slide show, those are some glamorous ladies!
Reblogged this on Sotto Voce and commented:
Fantastic reminder of the joy of great music. My folks liked big band music and all the soulful crooners. I still remember playing String of Pearls in Jr. High Band. What a horrible tribute we must delivered but it was fun to play. And I thank all the parents in the audience who knew what it was supposed to sound like and applauded anyway.
Thanks for reading, Val! I, too, recall playing some swing music in high school orchestra. :)
My son played String of Pearls in his Middle School band. I thought they sounded great!
Great stuff! Funny story: We fielded an RS&H complaint a few years ago from a listener. She highly objected to our use of the term “girl singers”, feeling that it demeaned women.
In today’s world perhaps she is right. However, you correctly use the proper term. This is what the female vocalists were called (and the men were “boy singers”). On radio broadcasts, the leader would say “…and now, let’s hear from our girl singer….”
In some cases, these singers were “girls” by ANY definition. Durelle Alexander, for instance, was 15 y.o. when she sang for Paul Whiteman in 1935. Anne Shelton was 13 in 1940 (Bert Ambrose).
We responded sensitively to the woman, but I doubt she saw it our way!
More great ones: Dolly Dawn (George Hall), Dolores O’Neill (Bob Chester), Ella Fitzgerald (Chick Webb), Helen Humes (Count Basie)….goodness! I could go on and on!!! Thanks, Maria.
Thanks for reading, Dale!
I really enjoy reading your posts.
I’m glad you enjoy them as much as I enjoy writing them!
Very interesting to look at music from another time, and these female singers!
The music was so fun, wasn’t it? Thanks for reading!