Tag Archives: jazz singer


One of the best living singers I know (and a subtle guitarist) is providing yet another reason to wish I was in California right now.  She’s Melissa Collard — with two fine CDs to her name — and she has a steady Friday night gig.  Might I suggest in the sweetest possible way, GO SEE HER . . . !

Combine a sweet voice with wise dramatic understatement, a swinging guitar accompaniment and solo, and a wide range of songs . . . that’s our Melissa, elusive for far too long.


Mildred Rinker Bailey

“The Rocking Chair Lady”

February 16, 1900 – December 12, 1951

Mildred Rinker was born one hundred and ten years ago today in Tekoa, Washington.  Her mother, Josephine Lee Rinker, was an enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe.  Mildred’s early childhood was spent on the family’s tribal allotment near DeSmet, Idaho, where she spent many happy hours riding her pony, Buck.

The Rinker family moved to Spokane’s North Central neighborhood when Mildred was thirteen, and she graduated from St. Joseph’s School. Mildred and her younger brother Al spent many happy hours singing and playing piano under the instruction of their mother, an excellent pianist who could play both classical and ragtime music.

Mildred’s musical talent inspired both her brother Al and one of his band mates, a singing drummer named Bing Crosby, who once said, “I was lucky in knowing the great jazz and blues singer Mildred Bailey so early in life.  I learned a lot from her.  She made records which are still vocal classics, and she taught me much about singing and interpreting popular songs.”

Shortly after her mother’s death from tuberculosis in 1917, Mildred moved to Seattle and found work singing from sheet music at a local music store.  Her career path led her throughout the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada, eventually settling in Los Angeles, where she joined the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and became the first full-time female big band singer in America.  Mildred Bailey’s groundbreaking achievement opened the door of opportunity for later jazz greats including Billie Holiday, Helen Ward, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Mildred Bailey’s earliest recordings were made in 1929, and she recorded nearly three hundred songs over the years, several of which became best-sellers.  Mildred had her own radio show in the 1940s, and was voted either first or second most popular female jazz vocalist in the first three annual Esquire Magazine jazz polls. The most famous artists from the swing era recorded and performed with Mildred, including Benny Goodman, Art Tatum, Mary Lou Williams, Coleman Hawkins, the Dorsey brothers, and Artie Shaw.

In 1944, Time magazine reviewed her show at the Café Society in New York and called her “just about the greatest songbird in the U.S.”  Mildred and her husband, pioneer xylophone and vibes great Red Norvo were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing” during this phase of her career.

Mildred Bailey died on December 21, 1951 in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she lived on a farm with her beloved dachshunds, Spotty and Susan.  In 1994, the U.S. Postal Service issued a series of stamps honoring legendary jazz and blues singers, including “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey.  One jazz historian said of Mildred, “She had a magic. So many people down the line, so many singers, benefited from her, owe debts to her – and they don’t even know it.”

Thank you, Mildred, for the trail you blazed and the beautiful songs you left behind.  You demonstrated that a little girl from an Idaho Indian reservation can dream big dreams, and make those dreams come true.  We’ll never forget you. Thanks for the memory!

Julia Keefe, Nez Perce tribal member


(For those of you who haven’t heard of Julia Keefe, I promise that you will.  She’s more than an articulate Mildred Bailey fan; more than a diligent researcher — who provided these pictures of a seventeen-year old Mildred about to leave Spokane for the big time (the pictures came from Mildred’s niece, Julia Rinker Miller, whose father was Al Rinker) . . . she’s also a 20-year old jazz singer with a future.   She reveres Mildred and sings some of her songs, but Julia is wise enough to know that imitation is both impossible and no one’s idea of flattery.  More from and about her in future!)  And Julia went to the same Spokane high school, Gonzaga Prep, as that fellow Crosby . . . it’s a small world after all. 


Dawn Lambeth, the quiet West Coast sensation, has just released her second CD, in the fine tradition of Maxine Sullivan and Mildred Bailey. She is an understated but compelling singer who fits wonderfully into small jazz groups — there’s no letdown when the soloists give way to the vocal — and the results are charming without ever being self-consciously nostalgic. Dawn isn’t one of those girl singers who found a Billie Holiday record a life-changing experience, not that there’s anything wrong with that — but then went off to imitate Lady Day. Dawn sounds like herself, which is a fine thing. You won’t think of her voice first — she doesn’t strive for coloratura effects — but she swings and can tell a story. What more could anyone wish for? She has a dark-toned alto and an easy, conversational way of addressing lyrics as if she believed in the words and the sentiment. She finds new notes to sing that seem just right, and her time (crucial for this lilting variety of jazz) is both right-on and flexible: she plays with the beat, pushing forward here and hesitating there, elongating a syllable you wouldn’t expect or cutting one short that another singer would have drawn out for melodrama. She fits right in with the instrumental soloists, stays at their level, and inspires them. But you’ll hear this for yourself. And hear this you should! Both of her CDs are available through Worlds Records and CD Baby (see the blogroll to visit their sites) and they are rare pleasures.