She had rhythm, she had style and she was the leader of the first all-female swing band to be recorded and filmed during the 1930’s. World meet Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears!
First up a little bit of information on Ina’s early years:
- Hutton was actually born Odessa Cowan in 1916
- She grew up with her half-sister June (also a successful singer) in a black neighbourhood on Chicago’s south side.
When Hutton was a child, United States Census records called her and her family “negro,” and “mulatto,” when the Bureau used that term.She would “pass” as white for the rest of her career
- Her mother, Marvel Ray was a local pianist and entertainer in Chicago
- Iva would go on to study dance with Hazel Thompson-Davis and received a rave revue in the Chicago Defender when she was only 7
In 1930, at age 14, she made her Broadway debut with Gus Edwards at the Palace Theater in New York. As Ina Ray, at age 16, she was a featured singer and dancer in George White’s “Melody;” at 17, she joined the Ziegfeld Follies (Source).
In 1934 at the age of 18 she was approached by Irving Mills to lead an all-girl orchestra called the Melodears. At the same time she was also encouraged to change her last name to Hutton, to take advantage of the notorious reputation of the Woolworths heiress Barbara Hutton (Source).
THE BAND IS A HIT! and would go on to tour solidly for five years and became one of the first all-girl bands to be filmed for Paramount shorts. Those shorts were:
- Feminine Rhythm (1935)
- Accent on Girls (1936)
- Swing, Hutton, Swing (1937).
(Link to Accent on Girls Video) & (Link to Swing Hutton Swing Video)
The band and Ina’s style never made them wallflowers. The Melodears’ outfits ranged from boyish trousers to long, ultra-feminine, sequined outfits. Downbeat magazine reported that Hutton’s stage wardrobe included 400 gowns (Impressive!).
The end of the Melodears but not the end of Hutton’s career
1939 saw Ina disband the Melodears, due to being tired of being seen as a ‘Novelty Act’ and also being tired of “all the glamour”. She formed an all-male band in 1940 and dyed her hair brunette to really emphasis the “done with glamour” part (that will do it! Ha Ha). This new band would perform together till 1949 and would even appear in the 1944 movie ‘Ever Since Venus‘.
The ‘Ina Ray Hutton TV Show’
From 1951 to 1956, Ina had her own TV show that saw the return of her All-Girl Orchestra (yay!) and the return to being blonde as well.
Here is Ina on her show with her singer sister (who had a good career herself), June Hutton (Link to video).
Hutton’s last recorded performance came in the 1975 film ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’.
Throughout her career Ina did not cut very many records, but she did have a lot of radio play, which has allowed future generations to be able to enjoy her talent. Below is a sampling of her songs and a link to where you can buy her collection of music.
- What’s the Good of Moonlight
- Georgia’s Gorgeous Gal
- Witch Doctor
- How’s About Tomorrow Night
- Tess’ Torch Song
- PLUS MANY MANY MORE! Buy/listen to her collection HERE
Her Personal Life
She married and divorced Lou Parisotto, Randy Brooks and Michael Anter (seen below in their 1958 wedding photo).
Her fourth husband, Jack Curtis, preceded her in death. Ina died in 1984 at the age of 67 from complications from diabetes.
While Ina’s story may not be as well-known to the world (I’m helping to fix that!), you cannot deny that she paved the way for a wave of female bands who took off in the 40s, as well as being a pioneer in fashion and television. She was a true talent and an amazing light in the world of music and was truly “The Blonde Bombshell of Rhythm”.
Lastly, there is a very popular family band in Sweden called the Carling Family band. The lead singer (Gunhild Carling) very much reminds me of Ina. In fact I would not be surprised if she is one of her influences.
Here is the Carling Family band at Frankie 100 with a performance they did in Central Park (I was there for this and it was AMAZING!!! Don’t miss a single moment). (Link to Video)
What did you think of Ina friends? Wasn’t she just remarkable? I will be adding her to my collection of swing music greats, that is for sure.