Hutton, Ina Ray (1916-1984)

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Hutton, Ina Ray (1916-1984)

A pioneer in bringing women musicians onto the jazz scene, svelte Ina Ray Hutton, "The Blonde Bombshell of Rhythm," led an all-girl swing band, the Melodears, from 1935-39 and again in a television series in 1956. Although her idea was ahead of its time, when the Melodears opened a set with their theme song, "Gotta Have Your Love," few would dispute critic George Simon's claim that "Without a doubt, the sexiest of all big bandleaders was Ina Ray Hutton."

At age fourteen, Chicago-born Ina Ray, the younger sister of June Hutton (who sang with Tommy Dorsey's Pied Pipers) was already in show business, singing and tap dancing with Gus Edwards's vaudeville revues at the Palace Theater in New York City. Four years later she was in the chorus line of the Ziegfield Follies and George White's Scandals. Her background in dance prepared her for her special style of leading a band, more choreography than conducting.

Changing mind-sets in that era was difficult, and Simon, reviewing an appearance by Hutton's Melodears, wrote: "Only God can make a tree, and only men can play good jazz." Fans of the Melodears praised the band's soloists: Betty Sattley on tenor sax; Alyse Wells, who played several instruments; and Betty Roudebush on piano. Another musician in the band, Ruth Lowe, went on to write two great Frank Sinatra hits: "I'll Never Smile Again" and "Put Your Dreams Away."

After the Melodears folded in 1939, Hutton fronted a band of male musicians in the 1940s, one critic describing her technique as "waving her long baton in a languorous, seductive sort of way." If Hutton's beauty had attracted the crowds, the critic added, good dance music by the band held them there. By 1943, as the band continued to find a wider audience, it took on an international flavor with the addition of the Kim Loo sisters. Stuart Foster was a popular soloist in the band. One of the leading musicians in the band, tenor saxophonist and arranger George Paxton, went on to form his own orchestra in 1944, but his greatest success came in heading one of New York's most successful music publishing businesses as well as being head of a recording company.

In the early 1950s Hutton returned to her original concept, leading a jazz orchestra of female musicians. Aired nationally on NBC beginning in July 1956, her half-hour variety show had no male regulars or guests. The musicians included Mickey Anderson, clarinet; Deedie Ball, piano; Harriet Blackburn and Lois Cronin, trom-bones; Janie Davis, Peggy Fairbanks, and Helen Hammond, trumpets; Evie Howeth and Margaret Rinker, drums; and Helen Smith, Judy Van Ever, Zoe Ann Willey, and Helen Wooley, reed section. The show ended in September 1956.

—Benjamin Griffith

Further Reading:

Esposito, Tony, ed. Golden Era of the Big Bands. New York, Warner, 1995.

Simon, George T. The Big Bands. New York, MacMillan, 1974.