April 22, 2009

Julia Keefe revives Mildred Bailey

Artist puts her spin on songs of Native jazz pioneer

By Kara BriggsIn 1929, a Spokane and Coeur d'Alene Indian vocalist joined Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra to become the breakthrough big-band "girl singer" who opened doors for many who followed.

Mildred Bailey's crystal-clear voice rang out from bandstands and radios everywhere in the '30s and '40s. Known as "Mrs. Swing," she topped the charts three times between 1938 and 1940. Among her many hits were "Rocking Chair," "Says My Heart" and "Darn that Dream," the latter recorded with Benny Goodman and His Orchestra.

Bailey died of a heart attack in 1951, and until recently, her music was largely forgotten.

Now Julia Keefe, a young jazz singer from the Nez Perce Tribe, is among those reviving Bailey's repertoire. On April 11, Keefe debuted a program titled "Thoroughly Modern: Mildred Bailey Songs" in a performance at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The Rasmuson Theater was standing-room-only when Keefe and the Jerrol Pennerman Octet took the stage.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Iroquois Exhibit on Native Entertainers.

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