An early jazz singer with a sweet voice, Mildred Bailey
balanced a good deal of popular success with a hot jazz-slanted career that saw her billed as Mrs. Swing (her husband, Red Norvo
, was Mr. Swing). Born Mildred Rinker
in Washington state in 1907, Bailey
began performing at an early age, playing piano and singing in movie theaters during the early '20s. By 1925, she was the headlining act at a club in Hollywood, doing a mixture of pop, early jazz tunes, and vaudeville standards. Influenced by Ethel Waters
, Bessie Smith
, and Connie Boswell
, she developed a soft, swinging delivery that pleased all kinds of nightclub audiences in the area. After sending a demonstration disc in to Paul Whiteman
in 1929, she gained a spot with one of the most popular dance orchestras of the day.
The added exposure with Whiteman
soon gave Bailey
her own radio program. She had already debuted on a recording date with guitarist Eddie Lang
in 1929, but in 1932 she gained fame by recording what became her signature song, "Rockin' Chair" -- written especially for her by Hoagie Carmichael
-- with a Whiteman
small group. While recording for Vocalion during the 1930s, Bailey
often utilized her husband, xylophonist/vibraphonist Red Norvo
. She also appeared on his recordings of the late '30s, and the arrangements of Eddie Sauter
proved a perfect accompaniment to her vocals.
Though she and Norvo
later divorced, Bailey
continued to perform and record during the 1940s. She appeared on Benny Goodman
's Camel Caravan radio program, and gained her own series again during the mid-'40s. Hampered by health problems during the late '40s, she spent time in the hospital suffering from diabetes and died of a heart attack in 1951.