Mildred Bailey

Mildred Bailey (February 27, 1907 – December 12, 1951) was a popular and influential American jazz singer during the 1930s, known as “Mrs. Swing”. Her number one hits were “Please Be Kind“, “Darn That Dream”, and “Says My Heart”.

Born as Mildred Rinker in Tekoa,[1] Washington, Bailey retained the last name of her first husband, Ted Bailey, when she moved to Seattle to bolster her singing career. With the help of her second husband, Benny Stafford, she became an established blues and jazz singer on the West Coast. According to Gary Giddins‘ book Bing Crosby – A Pocketful of Dreams – The Early Years 1903-1940, in 1925 she secured work for her brother, Al Rinker, and his partner Bing Crosby. Giddins further states that Crosby first heard of Louis Armstrong and other Chicago black jazz records from Bailey’s own record collection. Crosby helped Bailey in turn by introducing her to Paul Whiteman. She sang with Paul Whiteman’s band from 1929 to 1933 (Whiteman had a popular radio program and when Bailey debuted with her version of “Moaning Low” in 1929, public reaction was immediate, although she did not start recording with Whiteman until late 1931).

Her first two records were as uncredited vocalist for an Eddie Lang Orchestra session in 1929 (“What Kind O’ Man Is You?”, an obscure Hoagy Carmichael song that was only issued in the UK) and a 1930 recording of “I Like To Do Things For You” for Frankie Trumbauer. She was Whiteman’s popular female vocalist through 1932 (recording in a smooth crooning style), when she left the band due to salary disagreements. She then recorded a series of records for Brunswick in 1933 (accompanied by The Dorsey Brothers), as well an all-star session with Benny Goodman‘s studio band in 1934 that featured Coleman Hawkins.

In the mid 1930s, she recorded with her third husband Red Norvo. A dynamic couple, they earned the nicknames “Mr. and Mrs. Swing”. During this period (from 1936-1939) Norvo recorded for Brunswick (with Bailey as primary vocalist) and Bailey recorded her own set of recordings for Vocalion, often with Norvo’s band. Some of her recordings instead featured members of Count Basie‘s band. Despite her divorce from Norvo, she and Red would continue to record together until 1945. Suffering from diabetes and depression (during her adult life Bailey was overweight), she only made a few recordings following World War II.

Mildred Bailey died December 12, 1951, in Poughkeepsie of heart failure, aged 44, chiefly due to her diabetes. Bailey’s ashes were scattered. Red Norvo outlived Mildred by nearly half a century, dying in April 1999, a week after his 91st birthday.

Jazz vocal collectors have always considered her one of the best vocalists of her era (refer to many Downbeat polls and articles in Downbeat and many other jazz publications), Despite being a big woman, Bailey had a sweet, rather small yet very expressive voice, and quite a light, unique swinging vocal style (refer to many recordings). Many of her most outstanding records were among the best versions recorded:

  • When Day Is Done” (1935),
  • “‘Long About Midnight” (1936),
  • Where Are You” (1937),
  • Rockin’ Chair” (1937),
  • “It’s The Natural Thing To Do” (1937),
  • “Bob White” (1937),
  • Thanks for the Memory” (1938),
  • “Please Be Kind” (1938),
  • “Says My Heart” (1938),
  • “Darn That Dream” (1939),
  • “I’m Glad There is You”,
  • “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You”, and
  • “Born To Swing” (1938).

In 1939, Bailey fronted a six-side, mostly blues session as “Mildred Bailey and her Oxford Greys” for Vocalion, which featured a small mixed-race combo of Mary Lou Williams (piano), Floyd Smith (electric guitar), John Williams (bass) and Eddie Dougherty (drums).

Mildred Bailey was a major jazz vocalist and innovator who influenced Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, and Rosemary Clooney. On Peggy Lee’s late 50’s album, “Beauty & The Beat” with George Shearing, she sings a tribute to Mildred Bailey’s version of Duke Ellington’s “All Too Soon.” Be prepared to become fans of all mentioned.

Source: Wikipedia, YouTube

Here’s Mildred Singing Mitchel Parish’s, “The Lamp Is Low”

Thanks For The Memories


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