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Girard and Joe Marsala
June 25, 1913|
Holyoke, Massachusetts, U.S.
September 7, 1993|
|Genres||Jazz, dixieland, swing|
Adele Girard Marsala (June 25, 1913 – September 7, 1993) was a jazz harpist associated with dixieland and swing music. She is the first woman to bring the concert harp to prominence in jazz, with only Casper Reardon precedinh her. As a musician she is known by her birth name "Adele Girard", but she became "Adele Girard Marsala" after marrying clarinetist Joe Marsala.
Adele Girard's father, Leon, was a violinist who conducted and played in the pit orchestra for silent movies at the Bijou Theater in Holyoke, Massachusetts. He conducted the Holyoke City Band and the Springfield Broadcast Symphony. Girard's mother, Eleisa Noel Girard, was a pianist who studied opera and was offered a scholarship to La Scala in Italy, though she turned it down because she was unable to afford the trip. She taught both her children, Adele and Don, how to play piano.
When she was four, Girard accompanied her uncles as they sang "K-K-K-Katie" and "Over There", songs from the First World War. At age fourteen, she was taught harp by Alice Mikus, who played with Leon Girard in the Broadcast Symphony.
In 1933, she got a job as a pianist and vocalist with the Harry Sosnik orchestra in Chicago. After Sosnik learned she could play the harp, he bought her one. She performed with the Dick Stabile orchestra in New York City and in 1936 with the Three Ts, the Teagarden brothers (Jack and Charles) and Frankie Trumbauer at the Hickory House in New York City on 52nd Street. When the Ts toured, Girard worried that she would be unable to continue payments on her first harp. She asked the proprietor of Hickory House to keep her on, and he introduced her to Joe Marsala. She was hired to play in the Marsala band in 1937 and married Joe Marsala the same year. Marsala introduced her to Shelly Manne, Buddy Rich, Charlie Byrd, Gene DiNovi, and Neal Hefti. She had perfect pitch and could improvise any tune on the spot. Among her fans were James Bond author Ian Fleming and Harpo Marx, who also played harp and asked her for lessons. The Marsalas worked in the house band at Hickory House for ten years.
After composing the hit song "Don't Cry Joe", recorded by Frank Sinatra, Marsala and Girard moved to Aspen, Colorado, in 1949. Marsala wrote songs for a musical about the town and Girard performed the leading role. She continued to play harp with him at local venues. Marsala wrote "And So to Sleep Again", which was recorded by Patti Page. In Aspen, Girad played organ for the church choir and was involved in horse training and skiing. She recorded with Marsala in New York City, then with his protégé, Bobby Gordon, in Chicago. In the late 1960s, she and Marsala moved to California, where she participated in a production of The Fantastiks in Los Angeles and London with actor John Ritter.
In the 1970s and '80s Girard performed harp in restaurants on the west coast, often featured with the Murray Corda Orchestra. After Joe Marsala died of cancer in 1978, she continued to perform. She bred Dalmatians, played tennis, and her continued her lifelong love of ice skating. When she was 78, she had two strokes. Then she recorded the album Don't Let It End (Arbors, 1991) with Bobby Gordon. The song was Joe Marsala's tribute to the swing era. She died from congestive heart failure in Denver, Colorado, in 1993.
- Atteberry, Phillip D. "The Sweethearts of Swing: Adele Girard and Joe Marsala." The Mississippi Rag. April 1996
- Marsala Trampler, Eleisa, "Don't Let It End Pt. I: Joe Marsala". The Clarinet. June 2007
- Marsala Trampler, Eleisa, "Don't Let It End Pt. II: Bobby Gordon". The Clarinet. September 2007
- Marsala-Trampler, Eleisa, "Adele Girard Marsala: First Lady of the Jazz Harp". The American Harp Journal. Winter 2005
- Liner Notes: Bobby Gordon Plays Joe Marsala: Lower Register. Arbors. 2007