Corky Hale (born Merrilyn Hecht in Freeport, Illinois on July 3, 1936) has been a working jazz musician since the late 1950s. As an in-demand session player, she has traveled across the United States and throughout Europe, playing harp, piano and flute, and singing. In addition to her musical resume, Hale has been a theater producer, political activist, a restaurateur and even the owner of a once-famous Los Angeles women's clothing store, "Corky Hale."
Corky was raised in a small midwestern town where she been playing piano at the age of three. At seven, she was enrolled in classical piano studies at the Chicago Conservatory. It was here that she also became interested in the harp, and a life in music was born. In addition to her classical studies, she learned to love and play show tunes and standards, and soon embraced the jazz sounds of Stan Kenton.
At age 16, Corky's parents enrolled her in Stephens College, a school for young ladies, for her last year of high school. After graduation, Corky announced to her parents that she was moving to Hollywood to be a musician, whereupon her father immediately sent her to nearby University of Wisconsin–Madison. But it was too late; she’d been bitten by the "show biz bug," and after one year, she announced that now she was definitely going to Hollywood. A compromise was reached: Her parents would drive her to Los Angeles and enroll her at UCLA, where she would live in the sorority house. However, life as a student lasted only a few weeks. Through a friend, the opportunity arose to play harp on the "Freddie Martin Show." Her career had begun.
Since the 1950s, Hale has amassed a long list of performance and recording credentials, including sessions, TV shows and concerts with Liberace, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Elkie Brooks, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, Harry James, Peggy Lee, James Brown, Spike Jones, George Michael and Björk, to name a few.
In the late 1960s, she moved to New York and was asked to do some demos for the songwriting team of Leiber & Stoller. Almost immediately, Corky Hale and Mike Stoller fell in love and, since 1970, have been married.
Corky has been active outside of the performing arena:
- At the University of Wisconsin, Corky was one of the first, and one of the few white students to join the NAACP.
- She was a birth control teacher at Planned Parenthood in New York, and is on the National Advisory Board of NARAL.
- She is an American Film Institute associate.
- She is founder of Angel Harvest, an organization which redistributes unused foods from restaurants, hotels, and events, to the hungry and needy people of greater Los Angeles.
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With Les McCann
- Invitation to Openness (Atlantic, 1972)
With Nina Simone
- Here Comes the Sun (RCA, 1971)
- Musician's website, City Cabaret
- Musician's website
- "Corky Hale", discogs
- Looking Back: Brother/sister are credit to native city
- "Live Jazz: Corky Hale", International Review of Music, March 2, 2009, Don Heckman
- "Corky Hale and Friends- I'm Glad There Is You' CD Launch Party Features Performances By Kellerman, Hale, Shaw & More", Broadway World, September 23, 2009
- "Corky Hale Launches Latest CD", Beverly Hills Courier, 10/02/2009