Mary Small

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Mary Small
Born Harriette Mary Small
(1922-05-14)May 14, 1922
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Died February 27, 2007(2007-02-27) (aged 84)
Harlem, New York, U.S.
Occupation Singer, actress, radio personality
Years active 1928–2007
Musical career
Associated acts Vic Mizzy, Ray Bloch, Milton Berle, Vincent Lopez

Mary Small (May 10, 1922 - February 27, 2007) was a prominent singing personality during the Golden Age of Radio[1] and hosted her own broadcasts for 14 consecutive years across all major networks.[2] She headlined or opened at "presentation houses" from the 1930s through the 1950s including the Paramount Theater,[3] Madison Square Garden, the London Palladium,[4] the Copacabana with Sammy Davis, Jr.,[5][6] and the Palace Theater in Chicago. In addition to being an established recording artist,[7] she was a published author[8] and performed on film, television[9] and Broadway[10] during her career.[11] She was the first singer to be widely promoted as The Little Girl With The Big Voice, a moniker likely adopted by her first manager Ed Wolfe that was marketed in the Fleischer Brothers' Love Thy Neighbor, distributed by Paramount Pictures in 1934.[12][13] The moniker "Little Girl With The Big Voice" was subsequently used to promote female singing prodigies from Judy Garland to Jackie Evancho. She was married for a time to the composer Vic Mizzy with whom she had a widely publicized divorce.[14] Her life is the subject of a documentary by Rafael Moscatel.[15]

Early years[edit]

Mary Small was born in Baltimore, Maryland to Jack and Fannie Small. Her father was a local vaudevillian and her mother a homemaker. She first performed on Baltimore radio station WBAL at the age of six or seven and at nine won a radio contest hosted by Gus Edwards. She had a younger sister named Gloria. The story of how she was discovered was widely reported in newspapers, cartoon strips and interviews well into her later years [16][17] She was interviewed by Joe Franklin in 1972.[18]

Henry Harmony Pictures The Rise Of Mary Small

In 1933, at the age of eleven she was introduced to singing trio the Three X Sisters'' at the Hippodrome Theater on Eutaw Street in Baltimore. The trio arranged for her an audition with their manager Ed Wolfe who then booked her on the Rudy Vallee Hour on NBC affiliate WEAF New York where she received her first big break singing Louisville Lady. Mary’s voice was unique for that of a child, almost freakish to some, and the audience disbelief as to her age captivated America.[19] Within a month she had landed her own show on NBC which led into Frank Sinatra’s hour. Along with a selected stable of stars, they were promoted across the country on matchbooks, bottle caps and subway cars. While a child in New York she attended the Professional Children's School. Her childhood friend was Baby Rose Marie.[20]

Golden Age Of Radio[edit]

NBC Matchbook With Mary Small 1930s

Mary was successful on radio throughout the 1930s and 1940s and either hosted or was featured on a number of programs. She worked with the biggest bands and orchestras of the day including Tommy Dorsey, Ray Bloch, Glenn Miller and with stars like Roy Rogers, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra. She had a number of announcers for her programs over the years including Bud Collyer and Milton Cross who was best known as the voice of the Metropolitan Opera for 43 years.[20]

She was interviewed by David Siegel on September 24, 1999, for his book Remembering Radio: An Oral History of Old Time Radio[20] and quoted as saying:

Then, I got my own radio show, which I just mentioned was fifteen minutes, five nights a week, which Frank Sinatra followed, and we knew each other pretty well. Me with my little white socks, he with his long pants, but he had just left the Tommy Dorsey Band and I came in at 11:00 with Walter Gross' Orchestra, a seventeen-piece live band. I rehearsed during the afternoon, and there was a commercial break of about sixty seconds, and Frank Sinatra came in at 11:15. He was billed as the voice that is thrilling millions.

Throughout her career was employed by NBC, ABC and CBS and the Mutual Broadcasting Company.

Partial List Of Radio Credits[edit]

  • Ben Bernie (1933–1936)
  • Little Miss Bab-O’s Surprise Party (1934–1935)
  • The Maxwell House Showboat (1937)
  • Riding High (1937)
  • Keep It Dark (1941)
  • Imperial Time (1941)
  • Keep ‘Em Rolling (1942-01-25)
  • The Chamber Music Society Of Lower Basin Street (1942)
  • The Kemtone Hour (1944)
  • The Mary Small Show (1944)
  • Music For Millions (1945)
  • By Popular Demand (1945)
  • ''Dorothy Kilgallen’s Diary (1945)
  • Guest Star Program (1947)
  • Three for the Money (1948)
  • Behind The Mike (1940)
  • Your Hit Parade (1940's)
  • The Mary Small Junior Miss Show (1940's)

WW2 & The USO[edit]

Throughout WW2 and beyond, radio stations' programming played a role in the war effort. Mary’s ballads were swapped out for patriotic songs and she worked with the Treasury Department participating in US bond rallies where she shared the stage doing spots with actors like Jimmy Stewart.[21][22] Mary also joined Pearl Hamilton, one of The Three X Sisters, to tour with the USO in 1943 or 1944 and sang the song Smile, America, Smile. She also toured with B.A. Rolfe's Daughters Of Uncle Sam in 1942.[23]

Thank You, Mr. President[edit]

In 1942, at the March of Dimes event celebrating Franklin Roosevelt’s 60th birthday, Mary performed her own song, “Thank you, Mr. President,” backed by the Glenn Miller orchestra and broadcast live from the Waldorf Astoria.[24][25] This recording can be heard at The Little Girl With The Big Voice.

Stage Performance & Recording Years[edit]

Mary performed as a headliner and recorded consistently from 1934 through the 1950s. Her image appears on dozens of sheet music titles. After leaving showbiz to raise two daughters, she returned to Broadway in 1966 and toured with a new Follies cast. She also expanded into dramatic theater playing the role of Lenny Bruce’s mother in a play about his life.[26]

A number of her recordings and television performances can be found at the website The Little Girl With The Big Voice. A comprehensive CD of her recordings from the late 1940s and 50's was released in 2013 by Jasmine Records [27]

Incident With Richard Nixon and Sammy Davis, Jr.[edit]

In 1954, after a show at the Copacabana with Sammy Davis Jr., Richard Nixon and his wife Pat stopped by. Afterwards the then Vice President made his way to the dressing rooms to thank them for the show. The papers noted Mary as saying They applauded me as if I were a Republican!

Partial List of Stage Credits[edit]

Film & Television[edit]

In 1930's Mary began performing at the Paramount Theater between films and newsreels to draw in bigger crowds and then as a solo act.[28][29] In 1934 Mary went to Hollywood to sing a Bing Crosby song in the Fleischer Brothers' film “Love They Neighbor.” These short films introduced the “bouncing ball” sing-a-long gimmick.

Partial List of Film & Television Credits[edit]

Later Years[edit]

In her later years, Mary worked as a sought after vocal coach and performed in nightclubs in Manhattan.[30] At the time of her death she had outlived most of her contemporaries. Most of her life's work was not comprehensively cataloged until 2012.[31]


  1. ^ "From Child Star To Glamour Girl" (PDF). Tune In. December 1945. p. 41. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Husch, Larry (1933–1947). "OTRRpedia" (DATABASE). Database Of Old Time Radio Programs And People. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  3. ^ Goldin, J. David (1937). "Radio Gold Index". Riding High Chronology 1937. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  4. ^ Billboard Magazine (Music Section). January 24, 1953. p. 44 Retrieved 27 November 2012.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Milwaukee Sentinel. April 15, 1954.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ "Richard Nixon, Sammy Davis Jr. And Mary - 1954". The Little Girl With The Big Voice. Rafael Moscatel. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Small, Mary (2010). "Best Female Voices Of The 1950's". Careless, The Brush Off. Masters Classics Records. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  8. ^ Small, Mary (July 1949). "Mistaken Hour". Woman's Home Companion: 22–23, 52–54. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  9. ^ Small, Mary. "Credits". IMDB. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  10. ^ Small, Mary. "Credits". IBDB. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  11. ^ Siegel, David (2010). Remembering Radio: An Oral History Of Old-Time Radio. Albany, Georgia: BearManor Media. pp. 246–266. ISBN 1-59393-537-4. 
  12. ^ Small, Mary (1934). "Love Thy Neighbor" (AUDIOVISUAL). Love Thy Neighbor. Fleischer Studios. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  13. ^ IMDB. "Love Thy Neighbor". Screen Songs Love Thy Neighbor. Paramount Pictures. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  14. ^ Neigher, Harry (February 12, 1961). "Has Mizzy In A Tizzy". Sunday Herald. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  15. ^ "The Little Girl With The Big Voice (2015)". IMDB. Retrieved 7 September 2014. 
  16. ^ Harmony, Henry (October 19, 1934). "Henry Harmony Pictures The Rise Of Mary Small, Radio's Youngest Star" (CARTOON). The Microphone. p. 9. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  17. ^ Uricchio, Marylynn (July 11, 1983). "Nostalgia pervades 'Follies' cast". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  18. ^ Franklin, Joe (1972). "Interviews". Frank Diggs Collection. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  19. ^ Small, Mary (August 13, 1945). "Mary Small Vigorously Denies She Is Any Older Than Her 13 Years". Pittsburgh Press. p. 14. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  20. ^ a b c Siegel, David (2010). "9". Remembering Radio: An Oral History of Old-Time Radio. BearManor Media. pp. 246–266. ISBN 978-1-59393-537-5. 
  21. ^ Haendigis, Jerry. "Episodic Log". Series: Guest Star. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  22. ^ "Mary Small and Jimmy Stewart (1940's)" (AUDIO RECORDING). Guest Star. Rafael Moscatel. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  23. ^ "Prov. Gross Low". Billboard Magazine. June 13, 1942. p. 18. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  24. ^ Small, Mary (1942). "Thank You, Mr. President". Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  25. ^ Goldin, J. David (January 30, 1942). "January 30, 1942". Radio Gold Index. J. David Goldin. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  26. ^ "ELLIOT NORTON REVIEWS: "LENNY" {MARY SMALL, JON YATES, MARTY BRILL} (TV)". Paley Center For Media. 1974. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^ "Movie Review: The Notorious Sophie Lang". NY Times. 
  29. ^ "Movie Review: The Notorious Sophie Lang". NY Times. July 21, 1934. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  30. ^ "Mary Small helps singers find their own voices". Back Stage. October 26, 2001. Retrieved 27 November 2012. 
  31. ^ Moscatel, Rafael. "Mary Small: The Little Girl With The Big Voice". The Little Girl With The Big Voice. Retrieved 27 November 2012.