Betty Roche Betty Roche

Betty Roche’s recording of “Take the A Train” with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1952 has remained one of the most famous and enduring of Ellington's recordings, and the song with which she is associated.

Born Mary Elizabeth Roche in Wilmington, Delaware on Jan. 9, 1920, she began her career by winning a talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem when she was 17. This led eventually to her joining the Savoy Sultans, the resident band at the Savoy Ballroom, in 1941. Typifying the episodic nature of Roche's career, the band broke up soon after she joined it. She made her first record on the band's last recording session, a song called “At's In There.” She also sang briefly for bands led by the tenor sax player Lester Young and trumpeter Hot Lips Page.

She traveled to Hollywood in 1942 with the Ellington band to make the film Reveille With Beverly (also featuring Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie and Bob Crosby bands). Roche was to sing “Take the A Train”. As she sang “You'll find it's the quickest way to get to Harlem”, the train was shown - typical of Hollywood - racing across the open prairie. The American musicians' union (the AFM) had imposed a ban on recording that lasted throughout Roche's period with Ellington and she was thus denied the fame that would undoubtedly have come to her had she featured on the band's records.

In January 1943 Ellington's became the first black band to give a concert at Carnegie Hall. That evening he gave the first performance of one of his most controversial compositions, his 45-minute “Black, Brown and Beige” suite. Roche sang the famous “Blues” section, with its pyramid- like construction of lyrics. The concert was recorded, but the results were not issued until 40 years later. By the time Ellington recorded a studio version in 1944, Roche had left the band.

Read more



Similar Jazz Musicians

Sarah Vaughan Sarah Vaughan
voice / vocals
Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald
voice / vocals
Lena Horne Lena Horne
voice / vocals
Carmen McRae Carmen McRae
voice / vocals
Dee Dee Bridgewater Dee Dee Bridgewater
voice / vocals
Etta Jones Etta Jones
voice / vocals
Arthur Prysock Arthur Prysock
voice / vocals
Anita O'Day Anita O'Day
voice / vocals
Chris Connor Chris Connor
voice / vocals
Ivie Anderson Ivie Anderson
voice / vocals
Carol Sloane Carol Sloane
voice / vocals
Keely Smith Keely Smith
voice / vocals
Ernestine Anderson Ernestine Anderson
voice / vocals

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and through our retail affiliations you'll support us in the process.


Rare vinyl LPs and CDs from over 1,000 independent sellers


CDs, Vinyl, Blu-Ray DVDS, Prime membership, Alexa, SONOS and more


Specializing in high resolution and CD-quality downloads


Specializing in music, movies and video games


Marketplace for new, used, and vintage instruments and gear