Morse was born in Mansfield, Texas. She was hired by Jimmy Dorsey when she was 14 years old. Dorsey believed she was 19, and when he was informed by the school board that he was now responsible for her care, he fired her. In 1942, at the age of 17, she joined Freddie Slack‘s band, with whom in the same year she recorded “Cow Cow Boogie“, Capitol Records‘ first gold single. “Mr. Five by Five” was also recorded by Morse with Slack and they had a hit recording with the song in 1942 (Capitol 115). She also originated the wartime hit “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet,” which was later popularized by Nancy Walker in the film, Broadway Rhythm.
“Cow Cow Boogie”
In 1943, Morse began to record solo. She reached #1 in the R&B chart with “Shoo-Shoo Baby” in December for two weeks. In the same year she had a cameo appearance in the film Reveille with Beverly and starred in Universal’s “South of Dixie” and “The Ghost Catchers” with Olsen and Johnson. She sang in a wide variety of styles, and she had hits on both the U.S. pop and rhythm and blues charts. However, she never received the popularity of a major star.
“Shoo Shoo Baby” 1943
In 1946, “House of Blue Lights” by Freddie Slack and Morse, (written by Slack and Raye) saw them perform what was one of many of Raye’s songs picked up by black R&B artists.. Her biggest solo success was “Blacksmith Blues” in 1952, which sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. The same year her version of “Down the Road a Piece” appeared on Capitol with Slack again on piano accompaniment. Morse also recorded a version of “Oakie Boogie” for Capitol which reached #23 in 1952. Her version was one of the first songs arranged by Nelson Riddle. Morse ceased recording in 1957 but continued performing until the early 1990’s at such clubs as Michael’s Pub in New York, Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, the Hollywood Roosevelt Cinegrill and the Vine St. Bar and Grill. She appeared regularly at Disneyland for several years with the Ray McKinley Orchestra and did a successful tour of Australia shortly before her final illness.
1943, “No Love, No Nothin’ ”
Morse had six children from two marriages, as well as several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Her music career was profiled in Nick Tosches‘ 1984 book, The Unsung Heroes of Rock ‘N’ Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years Before Elvis. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street. Her entire recorded body of work was issued in a deluxe box set by Bear Family Records.
“Why Shouldn’t I?”
“Mr Five By Five”
Sources: wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com
Alternate Bio Info:
Popular singer best known for her hit ”Cow Cow Boogie,” Ella Mae Morse got her big break at a young age with Jimmy Dorsey‘s orchestra. There are two stories about her short stay with Dorsey. One is that she called for an audition when the band was booked at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. Needing a female singer, Dorsey listened, liked her and hired her. She claimed to be 19 but was really 13, and when Dorsey later received a notice from the school board informing him that he was responsible for her he fired her.
The other story tells that Dorsey discovered a 15-year-old Ella Mae at a Houston jam session. She had borrowed carfare to get to the event and walked out with a Dorsey contract. She was, however, inexperienced and undisciplined. Singer Bob Eberly recalls that on one radio program she forgot the lyrics to a song and started ad libbing as to that fact and on another song she sang an alternate set of risqué lyrics that was banned by the network. Dorsey fired her after only a month, hiring Helen O’Connell in her place.
“40 Cups Of Coffee”
The first story seems to be the ”official” one, while the second is how Dorsey bandmembers and music journalists of the time remembered it. In consideration of Morse’s age, the second story better fits with the chronology of Dorsey’s orchestra.
Whatever the truth, young Ella Mae apparently made a good impression on Dorsey bandmember Freddie Slack. Three years later, in 1942, he hired her to sing with his new orchestra. It was there she had her biggest hit with ”Cow Cow Boogie,” Capitol Records’ first gold single. She left Slack a year later and continued recording solo for Capitol. Though her records sold well throughout her career she never found a large following. She retired in 1957. Ella Mae Morse passed away from respiratory failure in 1999.
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