Born: February 27, 1907 | Died: December 12, 1951 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Mildred Bailey (February 27, 1907 December 12, 1951) was a popular American jazz singer during the 1930s.
Born as Mildred Rinker in Tekoa, Washington, Bailey retained the last name of her first husband, Ted Bailey, when she moved to Seattle to bolster her singing career. With the help of her second husband, Benny Stafford, she became an established blues and jazz singer on the west coast. In 1925 she secured work for her brother, Al Rinker and his partner Harry Lillis Bing Crosby. Crosby helped Bailey in turn by introducing her to Paul Whiteman. She sang with Paul Whiteman's band 1929 to 1933. In 1929, Whiteman had a popular radio program and when Bailey debuted with her version of Moaning Low in 1929, public reaction was immediate (although she didn't start making records with Whiteman until late 1931).
Her first two records were as uncredited vocalist for an Eddie Lang Orchestra session in 1929 (What Kind O' Man Is You?, an obscure Hoagy Carmichael song) that was issued only the UK and a 1930 recording 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), when she left the band due to salary disagreements. She then recorded a series of records for Brunswick in 1933 (accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers), as well an all-star session with Benny Goodman's studio band in 1934 that featured Coleman Hawkins.
In the mid 1930s, she recorded with her third husband Red Norvo. A dynamic couple, they earned the nicknames Mr. and Mrs. Swing. During this period (from 1936-1939) Norvo recorded for Brunswick (with Bailey as primary vocalist) and Bailey recorded her own set of recordings for Vocalion, often with Norvo's band. Some of her recordings featured members of Count Basie's band. Despite her divorce from Red, she and her third husband would continue to record together in until 1945. Suffering from diabetes and depression (all during her adult life she was extremely heavy), she only made a few recordings following the Second World War. She died in Poughkeepsie, New York of heart failure, aged 44, chiefly due to her diabetes.
Jazz vocal collectors consider her one of the best Jazz vocalists of her era. Despite being a very big woman, Bailey had a sweet, rather small yet very expressive voice and quite a light, unique swinging vocal style. Many of the tunes she recorded were among the best versions recorded (good examples of this were When Day Is Done (1935), 'Long About Midnight (1936), Where Are You?, Rockin' Chair, It's The Natural Thing To Do and Bob White (1937), and Thanks For The Memory, I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart and Born To Swing (1938). In 1939, Bailey fronted a 6 side session as Mildred Bailey and her Oxford Greys for Vocalion, which featured a brilliant small mixed-race combo of Mary Lou Williams (piano), Floyd Smith (electric guitar), John Williams (bass) and Eddie Dougherty (drums).