Mildred Bailey – Music Till Midnight – CBS – rebroadcast by Armed Forces Radio – October 20, 1944 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Heading back to the 40s and the Big Band era with Mildred Bailey, along with guests Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Dorsey and the Delta Rhythm Boys in this Armed Forces rebroadcast of her Music Till Midnight program over CBS Radio.
Mildred Bailey was born Mildred Rinker on a farm in rural Tekoa, Washington in 1907. Her mother Josephine was a member of the Coeur d’Alene people and a devout Roman Catholic. Bailey’s great-grandfather, Bazil Peone, was a well known head speaker and song leader of the Coeur d’Alene at the turn of the 20th century. His ability to create indigenized Catholic hymns helped guide the tribe during difficult times of active colonization by Jesuit missionaries.
At age 17, Rinker moved to Seattle and worked as a sheet music demonstrator at Woolworth’s. She married and divorced Ted Bailey, keeping his last name because she thought it sounded more American than Rinker, which was of Swiss (German) origin.
She toured with a West Coast revue and finished in California where she obtained work at radio station KMTR and at a speakeasy in Bakersfield called The Swede’s. With the help of her second husband Benny Stafford, Bailey became an established blues and jazz singer on the west coast of the United States. According to Gary Giddins in his book Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903–1940, she found work for her brother Al Rinker and Bing Crosby, who had started performing in Spokane, Washington. They had traveled from Spokane to join her in Los Angeles. Giddins says Crosby heard about Louis Armstrong from Bailey, who urged him to hear Armstrong if Crosby was to be a serious jazz singer. She also played Crosby records from her collection by Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith.
Crosby helped Bailey in turn by introducing her to Paul Whiteman in Los Angeles. She sang with Whiteman’s band from 1929 to 1933. Whiteman had a popular radio program for Old Gold Cigarettes, and when Bailey debuted on it with her version of “Moanin’ Low” on August 6, 1929, favorable public reaction was immediate. However, Bailey’s first recording with Whiteman did not take place until October 6, 1931 when she recorded a song called “My Goodbye to You”. Her recording of “All of Me” with Whiteman the same year was a hit in 1932.
Her first two records had been as an uncredited vocalist for a 1929 session by the Eddie Lang Orchestra (“What Kind o’ Man Is You?”, a Hoagy Carmichael song that was issued only in the UK), and a recording on May 8, 1930 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) but left the band later that same year over salary disagreements. She recorded four sides for Brunswick in 1931 with the Casa Loma Orchestra. and there were further recordings for the label in 1933 accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers. Bailey was part of an all-star session with Benny Goodman’s studio band in 1934 featuring Coleman Hawkins, Dick McDonough, and Gene Krupa. After leaving Whiteman, Bailey sang on the radio shows of George Jessel and Willard Robison.
In 1933 Bailey married Red Norvo, a xylophonist, improviser, and band leader who had worked with Paul Whiteman. A dynamic couple, they were married until 1942 and were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing”. They worked much of the time in New York City. They remained friends after their divorce. She worked as a solo act, singing in clubs in New York, such as the Café Society and the Blue Angel. In 1944 she had her own radio show on CBS which aired from September 1944 until February 1945. Her last major engagement was with Joe Marsala in Chicago in 1950.
Sound is a little rough on this Armed Forces rebroadcast – as AFRS discs are iffy more often than not. Bailey was very influential and worked with a vast array of bands and artists – this episode gives some idea just how versatile she was.