Taylor, Eva (1895–1977)
Taylor, Eva (1895–1977)
African-American singer, dancer, and radio show host. Name variations: Irene Gibbons; Catherine Henderson. Born Irene Gibbons on January 22, 1895, in St. Louis, Missouri; died of cancer on October 31, 1977, in Mineola, New York; daughter of Frank Gibbonsand Julia (Evans) Gibbons; educated at Sumner High School in St. Louis; married Clarence Williams (a musician), on October 8, 1921 (died 1965); children: Clarence, Jr. (b. 1923); Spencer Patrick (b. 1926); Irene (b. 1928).
(as Irene Gibbons) "My Pillow and Me" and "I'm Going Away Just to Wear You Off My Mind," "That Da Da Strain" and "Longing/ Let Me Forget"; (as Eva Taylor) "Original Charleston Strut/ If You Don't Know, I Know Who Will," "Shake That Thing/ Get It Fixed," and "Have You Ever Felt That Way?/ West End Blues"; (with the Charleston Chasers) "Ain't Misbehaving/ Moanin' Low" and "Turn On the Heat/ What Wouldn't I Do for That Man?"; (with Clarence Williams Trio) "Of All the Wrongs You've Done Me/ Everybody Loves My Baby" and "Mandy, Make Up Your Mind/ I'm a Little Blackbird Looking for a Bluebird."
Eva Taylor was born Irene Gibbons in 1895 in St. Louis, Missouri. When she was three, she began singing and dancing in vaudeville, performing with Josephine Gassman and Her Pickaninnies at St. Louis' Orpheum Theater. Later she toured with the troupe in the UnitedStates as well as in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. In 1911, Taylor was in the chorus of the New York City production of Vera Violetta with Al Jolson. Returning to the Gassman troupe in 1914, she toured as a ballad singer and dancer.
After Taylor and bandleader Clarence Williams were married in 1921, they lived in New York City, where she performed in clubs and theaters, singing ballads and blues with her husband's group, the Clarence Williams Trio. In 1922, she appeared on stage in such shows as Queen of Hearts, Miller and Lyles' East Coast variety show Step On It, and Shuffle Along with Florence Mills , for whom Taylor understudied two years later in the musical revue Dixie to Broadway. From 1923 to 1930, Taylor sang at various venues around New York City, including the Apollo Theater, Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Theater, the Savoy Ballroom, and the Harlem Casino. Other stage appearances included the musical revue Melodies of 1933, Mr. Jiggins of Jigginstown (1936), Bottomland and Miller and Lyles' Keep Shufflin'.
Taylor was also active in radio throughout the 1920s and 1930s, guesting on such programs as "Major Bowes Capitol Family Show" and "Soft Lights and Sweet Music." Her first radio appearance was in 1922 with her husband's trio on the "Musical Program," starring Vaughn De Leath ("The Original Radio Girl"). In 1929, Taylor became the first black American female soloist to broadcast nationally and internationally. From 1932 to 1933, she hosted her own program, the "Eva Taylor, Crooner Show." As staff soloist at WEAF-WJZ, she often sang with the Knickerbockers Orchestra, but she also appeared on "Harlem" (with the Cab Calloway Orchestra), "The Eveready Hour" (with Nat Shilkret), "Atwater Kent Hour," "Slow River Show" (with Lil Hardin Armstrong and the Clarence Williams Trio), and "Kraft Music Hall" (with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra).
During these years, Taylor recorded with her husband as well as others for the Black Swan, Okeh, Columbia, Edison, Victor, Velvetone, Vocalion, Bluebird, and ACR labels. She recorded under the names Eva Taylor, Irene Gibbons, and Catherine Henderson, and with such groups as the Charleston Chasers and the Riffers. She also wrote the song "May We Meet Again, Florence Mills."
Taylor stopped appearing professionally during World War II, performing instead at New York City hospitals for the Hospital Reserve Corps. In 1948, she sang at the Bessie Smith Memorial Concert. Although less active musically during the 1950s and 1960s, she appeared on BBC radio in London with the Anglo-American Alliance Jazz Groups in 1967, recorded with the Anglo-American Boy Friends in Burnham, England, and appeared on television in New York City on the "Joe Franklin Show." During the 1970s, she appeared at the Overseas Press Club in New York City and at the Stampen Club in Stockholm, Sweden; as well, she performed in concert with the Sweet Peruna Jazz Band and Maggie's Blue Five group in Denmark and Sweden.
During Taylor's career, she had the opportunity to work with a number of notable performers, including Mills, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters , King Oliver, Al Jolson, Armand J. Piron, Sara Martin , Lawrence Lomax, Clarence Todd, and Cab Calloway. Critics have suggested that her singing style was influenced by Katherine Henderson and Sippie Wallace . Although she did not have a big voice, like some at the time, according to Brian Rust, "her rich and thrilling contralto" was "nevertheless ideally suited to all kinds of songs, flexible, warm, and human as its owner."
Taylor and Williams, who had three children, often performed together during their 44-year marriage which ended with his death in 1965. Eva Taylor died of cancer in New York, at age 82.
Smith, Jessie Carney, ed. Notable Black American Women. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.
Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan