Tag: Bea Wain

Bea Wain-Star Singer of the Big Band Era

Bea Wain 1940s Big Band Singer

Bea Wain is considered by many to be one of the best female vocalists of her era. A self-taught singer, with an expressive but understated swing style, she worked hard to leave her mark in the Big Band & Radio world.

Today’s post is all about this incredible and talented woman.

Bea Wain NBC's Manhattan Merry-Go-Round 1940s
Bea Wain for NBC’s Manhattan Merry-Go-Round 1940s Source: Getty Images

Born Beatrice Wain April 30th, 1917 in the Bronx, New York, her singing career would begin at the young age of 6 on a radio program titled “NBC Children’s Hour,” where she earned $2 per broadcast (Source). Blessed with a raw talent and the knowledge that she wanted to be a singer, Beatrice would never took a single singing lesson growing up. Dance and piano lessons she agreed to but never singing.

“I never wanted anybody to teach me how to sing,” she said in an interview with Sara Fishko for the New York public radio station WNYC in 2013 (Source).

This raw talent would keep Beatrice busy, singing with various radio shows and even cutting records for popular big band leaders. One particular record with Artie Shaw in September 1937, saw her name accidentally go from ‘Beatrice Wain’ to ‘Beatrice Wayne’. Then later on record labels, her name was shortened (without her permission) to “Bea” by the record company, ostensibly for space considerations.

Bea Wain Big Band Singer Vintage Photo

She would get her big break in 1937, when she emerged from the chorus on the radio show “The Kate Smith Hour” to sing an eight-bar solo. The arranger Larry Clinton, who was listening, needed to hear no more. He was forming a band at the time and quickly signed her to be its vocalist.

“I did a lot of singing, choral things,” she recalled.  “And he heard me on the Kate Smith show.  He didn’t see me.  Actually, it was very strange, because . . . I had a call and went to the phone and this man said, ‘My name is Larry Clinton.  I’m starting a band and I’m looking for a girl singer and I would like you to make some sides with me.’  Which was really cuckoo [laughs], ’cause I said to myself, ‘He never saw me.  He never really heard me, it was just a few bars.  And he told me to meet him at RCA Victor the next week, he was recording, and he sent me a tune to do, and I did it. And the first time I saw him was when I walked in the studio (Source).”

Larry Clinton and Bea Wain album cover

Following this recording session Bea remained with the band and would make her debut with Larry Clinton officially in the summer of 1938 at the Glen Island Casino, New Rochelle, New York. This would be the turning point for Larry Clintons Orchestra because as they were broadcasted live across the radio wires, theirs and Bea’s popularity would rise.

Glen Island Casino Vintage Image
Source: Glen Island Harbour Club
Bea Stated:  “If we played in an elegant ballroom, it was very nice.  We played a lot of colleges, and that was fun.  As I said, I was very young.  We played at Yale, we played at Princeton, we played [at] the University of North Carolina… you know, we just went on the road, and you went from one to the other.  And they all couldn’t wait until the band arrived, because the band became very popular on account of these radio broadcasts (Source).”    

During her time with The Larry Clinton Orchestra, Bea would go on to record several hit songs:

Her Signature Song: My Reverie and was top of the charts for 8 weeks in 1938. (Video Link)

Deep Purple”, “Heart and Soul” as well as “Cry, Baby, Cry” were also # 1 hits.

(Video Link)

It’s time to move on…

After a year and a half with the band, she tired of the road trips and poor pay for recordings** and left to perform on her own. At this time she was also a married woman to radio announcer André Baruch who she had met on the Kate Smith Show (where she was singing in the chorus if you remember my mention above). They had married May 1st, 1938.

Source: Pinterest
Bea Wain and André Baruch
Source: Pinterest

After the orchestra, Bea would go on to have a successful radio career singing in programs like CBS’s, “Your Hit Parade” from 1939-44 where her husband Andre was also the announcer. Monday Merry-Go-Round (NBC Blue 1941-1942) and Starlight Serenade (Mutual 1944) (Source).

Bea Wain, singer on CBS Radios popular music program, Your Hit Parade. Here, She applies makeup. Image dated October 1, 1940. New York, NY.
Bea Wain, singer on CBS Radios popular music program, Your Hit Parade. Here, She applies makeup. Image dated October 1, 1940. New York, NY. Source: Getty Images
Bea Wain in General Electric ad 1940s
Source: Pinterest

During WW2 while her husband served overseas, Bea would do her part by performing at Army Camps and Naval Bases for the troops. Upon his return they would go on to host a radio program called “Mr. and Mrs. Music,” a daily program on WMCA in New York, on which they doubled as disc jockeys and interviewers.

Bea Wain with her husband, Andre Baruch, at WMCA in 1947.
Source: NY Times

In 1973, the couple moved to Palm Beach, Florida, where they had a similar radio show before relocating to Beverly Hills. During the early 1980s, the pair hosted a syndicated version of “Your Hit Parade”, reconstructing the list of hits of selected weeks in the 1940s and playing the original recordings on-air (Source).

Around the same time, Bea was featured on TV’s “Jukebox Saturday Night”. She was sensational, proving that her voice was still very much intact and that she was still a force to be reckoned with.

Bea passed away this year at the age of 100 on August 19th, 2017 (Andre passed in 1991).

In a 2004 interview with Christopher Popa, Wain reflected: “Actually, I’ve had a wonderful life, a wonderful career. And I’m still singing, and I’m still singing pretty good (Source).

Thank You for all the music.

Other Awesome Facts about Bea:

Bea Wain Billboard 1943 Image
Source: Wikipedia

*Ms. Wain was voted most popular female band vocalist in Billboard’s 1939 college poll (Ella Fitzgerald was second) (Source).

*She is considered by many to be one of the best female vocalists of her era, possessing a natural feel for swing-music rhythms not often found among white singers of the day. With regard to technique, she excelled in pitch and subtle utilization of dynamics. She also communicated a feminine sensuality and sang with conviction in an unforced manner (Source).

*Wain was also the first artist to record the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg classic “Over the Rainbow” (on December 7, 1938, with Clinton’s orchestra), but MGM prohibited the release until The Wizard of Oz (1939) had opened and audiences heard Judy Garland perform it (Source).

Other Hits (not a complete list):

(Video Link)

Friends, I hope you enjoyed learning about this beautiful and talented star of the Big Band Era. I had heard of Bea in passing, but did not realize what a true talent she was until now. Bea will be on rotation on my playlist going forth and she will always be mentioned when discussing the women of the big band era.

Question Time: Have you heard of Bea Wain? If yes then please share your favorite song in the comments below, I would love to know what it is!

For further reading please check out my blog post: ‘Women of the Big Band Era that Everyone Should Know.

**Bea made $50 a week (about $870 in today’s dollars) working every night all summer with the Clinton band at Glen Island and only $30 for a three-hour session recording four songs. That meant that while songs like “My Reverie” and “Deep Purple” reaped a fortune for others, she made all of about $7.50 (or about $130 today) for each song (Source).

Women of the Big Band Era that Everyone Should Know

The Women of the Big Band Era

2 were singers in a Big Band

2 were Big Bands

2 were Sister Acts

And 2 were stars on the Swing Dance Floors. These are just some of the women of the Big Band Era that I wanted to highlight for today’s post.

The Girl Groups:

The Boswell Sisters

The Boswell Sisters with Bing Crosby

The Boswell Sisters were a close harmony singing group, consisting of sisters Martha Boswell, Connee Boswell, and Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, noted for intricate harmonies and rhythmic experimentation (source).

They had up 20 hits during the 1930s, including the number-one record “The Object of My Affection” (1935). They also completed two successful tours of Europe, appeared on the inaugural television broadcast of CBS, and performed on Hello, Europe, the first internationally broadcast radio program.

The Sisters were also some of the radio’s earliest stars, making them one of the first hit acts of the mass-entertainment age. In 1934, the Sisters appeared 13 times on the Bing Crosby Entertains radio show on CBS. They were featured in fan magazines, and their likenesses were used in advertisements for beauty and household products (source).

For more information please visit the official Boswell website HERE.

Andrew Sisters

Andrew Sisters

The Andrew Sisters started out as a tribute band to the sisters mentioned above “The Boswells” but quickly found their own style and their own hits turning them into America’s most popular female singing group.

The group consisted of three sisters: contralto LaVerne Sophia, soprano Maxine Angelyn “Maxene”, and mezzo-soprano Patricia Marie “Patty”. After 6 years on the road with various dance bands and touring in vaudville, they had their first hit with “Bei Mir Bist Du Schön”. They followed this success with a string of best-selling records over the next two years and they became a household name by the 1940s.

The sisters sold well over 75 million records (the last official count released by MCA Records in the mid-1970s), starred in 17 Hollywood movies and were established radio personalities. Their 1941 hit “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” can be considered an early example of rhythm and blues or jump blues (source).

During their musical career they were very active in their patriotic duty of wartime entertainment. They volunteered their free time to entertain enlisted and wounded men by singing, dancing and signing autographs (source).

For more on the Andrew Sisters please visit their official site HERE.

The Big Band Singers:

Helen Forrest

Helen Forrest 1945 in novelty blouse

Helen served as the “girl singer” for three of the most popular big bands of the Swing Era (Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Harry James), thereby earning a reputation as “the voice of the name bands” (source) . She is regarded by some as the best female vocalist of the swing era. With James she had three million selling records and countless Top Ten hits, and for two years running was voted the most popular female vocalist in America (source).

FACT: Helen Forrest was one of the first singers in the big band era whose vocals were featured throughout a full band arrangement. Before this time, big band vocalists usually sang in the middle of a song (Source).

For more information on Helen visit HERE.

Martha Tilton 

Source: Old Time Radio Catalog

Martha Tilton, who as one of Benny Goodman’s vocalists in the 1930s was billed as the “Sweetheart of Swing” and appeared on 80 of his recordings (source). She also appeared with Jimmy Dorsey and briefly with Artie Shaw later on in her career.

Fun Story:

Early in her career with the Goodman organization, Martha was singing at the SunnyBrook Ballroom in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. When it came time for Benny to introduce her, he gave her a big buildup: “Here is a pretty gal from Hollywood that’s really going places.” But Martha missed her cue. When she didn’t appear on stage, after a moment Benny ad-libbed, “She’s not going places, she’s already gone.” (source).

For more information on Martha visit HERE.

The Big Bands:

International Sweethearts of Rhythm

International Sweethearts of Rhythm

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was the first integrated all women’s band in the United States.

The Sweethearts began in the rural junction of Piney Woods, Miss., in 1937. Lawrence Jones had founded a vocational school there primarily for young black children and teens and wanted to raise money by forming a student swing band (Source).  Members from different races, including Latina, Asian, Caucasian, Black, Indian and Puerto Rican, lent the band an “international” flavor, and the name International Sweethearts of Rhythm was given to the group.

Though known mostly to black audiences the band quickly rose in popularity playing in theatres like the Apollo in Harlem and the Howard Theatre in Washington when the band set a new box office record of 35,000 patrons in one week of 1941. Things though were not always wonderful for the band, especially when they traveled in the south where the Jim Crow Law was in full effect. The law forced the band to sleep and eat on their bus because of the segregation laws that prevented them from using restaurants and hotels (among many other issues brought on by this law).

In 1944 the band was named “America’s No. 1 All-Girl Orchestra” by Downbeat magazine.

For more information on the Sweethearts visit HERE.

Ivy Benson and Her All-Girl Band

Ivy-Benson-and her all girl orchestra

Ivy Benson was an English musician and bandleader, who in 1939 led an all-female swing band to prove to the world that women could be good musicians too. Benson and her band rose to fame in the 1940s, headlining variety theatres and topping the bill at the London Palladium, and became the BBC’s resident house band. Her band (in one form or another) ran from 1939 to 1982. During those years, she gave hundreds of girls and women the chance to become professional musicians.

Fun Fact: Benson’s band had a high turnover of musicians, as they frequently left to marry G.I.s they met while touring. She once commented, “I lost seven in one year to America. Only the other week a girl slipped away from the stage. I thought she was going to the lavatory but she went off with a G.I. Nobody’s seen her since” (source).

For more on Ivy visit HERE.


The Dancers:

Norma Miller-The Queen of Swing

Norma Miller Lindy Hopper


Known to many as the Queen of Swing, and the last living member of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, the group that took Lindy Hop — the original swing dance — out of Harlem’s ballrooms and across the world (she is 95).

Norma Miller was first discovered as a gifted young Lindy Hopper when she was just 12 years old.  She was found dancing on the sidewalk outside of the Savoy Ballroom (because she was too young to go in) where the music could be heard quite well (source).

Later that year, Miller entered the Savoy Lindy Hop Contest, which was held at the Apollo Theater. Miller entered with one of her high school friends. They won the contest and Norma was asked to join Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. The group rose to prominence after winning a contest at the Harvest Moon Ball. Miller and the group performed on Broadway and in several motion pictures.

Miller has written several books, appeared in six films and four television series.

In 2003, Miller was given a “National Heritage Fellowship” from the National Endowment for the Arts for creating and continuing to preserve “the acrobatic style swing dance, known as the Lindy Hop (source).

Today Norma currently tours the world, spreading the joy and history of Lindy Hop to new generations of swing dancers and interested audiences.

On a personal level I have been fortunate enough to meet Norma in person when she was visiting Toronto a couple of years ago for a Lindy Hop weekend. She is an incredible woman with so much sass and humor, you cannot help but be instantly drawn to her.

For more on Norma please visit her website HERE.

Here is her most well-known film appearance is in the swing dancing scene in the film Hellzapoppin, featuring Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Jewel McCowan – One of the greatest Lindy Hop Followers that ever lived.

Jewel McGowan Lindy Hop

Jewel by the age of 19 was working as a dancer in music clubs, and doing the Southern California partnered street dance known to them as “Swing”. It was during this time in the late 1930s that a New Jersey Lindy Hop dancer going by the name Dean Collins came to town looking for a partner. He found Jewel, and out of their collaboration came what is now widely regarded as the greatest dancing partnership of the original swing dance era. They would go on to appear in dozens of Hollywood films and shorts.

Jewel did not dance a lot of variations, but instead expressed her powerful voice in her movement and attitude. Jewels swivels (you will know them when you see them) are credited as being without equal (source).

Here is a compilation of Jewel’s movies (and moves).

Update (Dec 15th, 2017): I would like to add Bea Wain to this list as well. To read all about her career, please visit my post HERE.

Well friends, I hope you enjoyed learning about SOME of the women of the Big Band Era. I plan on doing a part 2 to this post in the coming months, so stay tuned for that.

Who was your favorite?

Liz 🙂