100 Jazz Profiles
1907 - 1951
Singer. A talented and much under-rated musician, Bailey was one of the earliest white vocalists to catch the nuances of African-American jazz. She had a good sense of swing, and her timing underlined the sense of the words she sang. She had a high, somewhat thin voice, but could hold her own as an improviser and scat singer with the finest musicians of the swing era - including Coleman Hawkins, Benny Goodman and her husband from 1933, vibes player Red Norvo.
She and Norvo were so much at the centre of New York's musical life in the 1930s that they were nicknamed 'Mr and Mrs Swing', although Bailey became better-known as 'The Rockin' Chair Lady' after her success with Hoagy Carmichael's famous song. Bailey grew up in Washington State in the Pacific North West. Her first work was as a song-plugger, but she also broadcast and toured in a travelling revue. She was the sister of the singer Al Rinker, whom she followed into Paul Whiteman's band, where her brother and Bing Crosby had been part of the famous 'Rhythm Boys'.
She cut discs with many swing stars, including guitarist Eddie Lang, but her best work dates from her time with Norvo's late 1930s group. In the 1940s, her marriage to Norvo ended, and after singing with Benny Goodman, she seldom worked for any time with anyone else's band, but appeared as a soloist. She had popular and well-attended runs in many New York clubs, and was a particular favourite at the Cafe Society. Diabetes and obesity stalled her career in the mid-1940s, but she was helped back to performance by a number of influential musicians. Nevertheless, health troubles ended her career prematurely at the start of the 1950s.
Will Friedwald: Jazz Singing - America's Great Voices from Bessie Smith to bebop and Beyond (London, Quartet 1990)
The Rockin' Chair Lady (MCA GRP 16442)
Suggested track: Lover Come Back To Me
on radio 3
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