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Ella Mae Morse

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Ella Mae Morse
Ella Mae Morse in 1944.
Ella Mae Morse in 1944.
Background information
Born(1924-09-12)September 12, 1924
Mansfield, Texas, U.S.
DiedOctober 16, 1999(1999-10-16) (aged 75)
Bullhead City, Arizona, U.S.
Years active1940s–1990s

Ella Mae Morse (September 12, 1924 – October 16, 1999)[1] was an American singer of popular music whose 1940s and 1950s recordings mixing jazz, blues, and country styles influenced the development of rock and roll. Her 1942 recording of "Cow-Cow Boogie" with Freddie Slack and His Orchestra gave Capitol Records its first gold record. In 1943, her single "Get On Board, Little Chillun", also with Slack, charted in what would soon become the R&B charts, making her one of the first white singers to do so. Morse stopped recording in 1957 but continued to perform and tour into the 1990s. In 1960 she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[2]


Morse was born in Mansfield, Texas. She was hired by Jimmy Dorsey when she was 14 years old.[1] In 1942, at the age of 17, she joined Freddie Slack's band, with whom, that same year she recorded "Cow-Cow Boogie (Cuma-Ti-Yi-Yi-Ay)", the first gold record released by Capitol Records.[1][3] "Mr. Five by Five" was also recorded by Morse with Slack,[4] and became a hit record in 1942 (Capitol 115). She also originated the wartime hit "Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet",[5] which was later popularized by Nancy Walker in the 1944 film Broadway Rhythm.

In 1943, Morse began to record solo. She reached #1 in the R&B chart with "Shoo-Shoo Baby"[6] in December for two weeks. In the same year she performed "Cow Cow Boogie" in the film Reveille with Beverly and co-starred in Universal's South of Dixie, Ghost Catchers with Olsen and Johnson, and How Do You Dooo?, a vehicle for radio's "Mad Russian", Bert Gordon. She sang in a wide variety of styles, and she had hits on both the U.S. pop and rhythm and blues charts. However, she never received the popularity of a major star.[1]

The song "Love Me or Leave Me" as recorded by Morse was released by Capitol Records as catalog number 1922,[7] with the flip side "Blacksmith Blues", which became her biggest hit.

In 1946, "House of Blue Lights" by Freddie Slack and Morse, (written by Slack and Don Raye) saw them perform what was one of many of Raye's songs picked up by black R&B artists.[8][9] Her biggest solo success was "Blacksmith Blues" in 1952, which sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[10] The same year her version of "Down the Road a Piece" appeared on Capitol with Slack again on piano accompaniment. Morse also recorded a version of "Oakie Boogie" for Capitol which reached #23 in 1952.[11] Her version was one of the first songs arranged by Nelson Riddle.[12]

Morse ceased recording in 1957, but continued performing until the early 1990s, under the new management of Alan Eichler,[13] performing at such clubs as Michael's Pub in New York,[14] Ye Little Club in Beverly Hills, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Cinegrill and the Vine St. Bar and Grill. She appeared regularly at Disneyland for several years with the Ray McKinley Orchestra, and did a successful tour of Australia shortly before her final illness.

Her music career was profiled in Nick Tosches' 1984 book, The Unsung Heroes of Rock 'N' Roll: The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years Before Elvis. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1724 Vine Street.[2]

Her entire recorded body of work was issued in a deluxe box set by Bear Family Records and a rare live performance, "Ella Mae Morse On Broadway", was released in 2011.

Musical style[edit]

As Morse's musical style blended jazz, blues, and country, she has sometimes been called the first rock 'n' roll singer. A good example is her 1942 recording of the song "Get On Board, Little Chillun", which, with strong gospel, blues, boogie, and jive sounds, was a genuine precursor to the later rockabilly/rock 'n roll songs.[15] Her records sold well to both Caucasian and African-American audiences. As she was not well known at the time of her first solo hits, many people assumed she was African-American because of her 'hip' vocal style and choice of material.[16]

Personal life[edit]

In 1999, Morse died of respiratory failure in Bullhead City, Arizona, at the age of 75.[1] She had six children from four marriages,[17] several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a sister, Flo Handy, who was also a singer.


Albums as a leader[edit]

  • Dynamite Texas Diva Live (1940s live recordings, released by Collectors Choice, 2003)
  • Barrelhouse, Boogie and the Blues with Big Dave and his orchestra (Capitol Records, 1957)
  • Morse Code (Capitol, 1957)


  • Morse Code Collection (Jasmine Records, 2005) (2 discs)
  • Singles Collection, 1942-57 (Acrobat Records, 2018) (3 discs)
  • Barrelhouse, Boogie and the Blues (Bear Family Records, 2006) (Complete recordings, 5 discs)
  • Rocks (Bear Family Records, 2013)
  • Very Best Of (Collectables, 1998)
  • Two Classic Albums Plus Singles (Real Tyme Music, 2014) (4 discs)
  • Ella Mae Morse, Collectors Series (Capitol, 2007
  • Razzle Dazzle--In the 50's (Rev-ola Bandstand, 2007

Hit singles[edit]

Year Single US Chart position Label Catalogue No.
1942 "Cow-Cow Boogie" 9[16] Capitol 102 [18]
"Mr. Five by Five" 10[16] Capitol 115[18]
1943 "Get On Board Little Chillun" 17 (R&B)[16] Capitol 133[18]
"Shoo Shoo Baby" 4[19] Capitol 143[18]
1944 "No Love, No Nothin’" 4[19] Capitol 143[18]
"Tess' Torch Song" 11[19] Capitol 151[18]
"Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet" 7[19] Capitol 151[18]
"The Patty Cake Man" 10[19] Capitol 163[18]
1945 "Captain Kidd" 17[19] Capitol 193[18]
1946 "Buzz Me" 15[19] Capitol 226[18]
"The House of Blue Lights" 8 (R&B) [20] Capitol 251[18]
1952 "The Blacksmith Blues" 3[19] Capitol 1922[21]
"Oakie Boogie" 23[19] Capitol 2072[22]
1953 "40 Cups of Coffee" 26[19] Capitol 2539[23]

As a collaborator or side performer[edit]

  • Ella Mae Morse and Freddie Slack, The Hits of Ella Mae Morse and Freddie Slack (Capitol, 1962)
  • Herbie Mann, Ella Mae Morse, Jimmy Giuffre, Sessions, Live (Calliope, 1976)
  • Red Norvo Quintet, With Guest Vocalists Mavis Rivers And Ella Mae Morse (United, 1962; released by Studio West, 1990)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Ella Mae Morse - Biography & History - AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Ella Mae Morse | Hollywood Walk of Fame". October 25, 2019. Retrieved December 18, 2019.
  3. ^ Gilliland, John (1994). Pop Chronicles the 40s: The Lively Story of Pop Music in the 40s (audiobook). ISBN 978-1-55935-147-8. OCLC 31611854. Tape 1, side A.
  4. ^ "Back and Forth: Boogie Fever no. 2-4". Beatresearch2.blogspot.com. Retrieved October 26, 2017.
  5. ^ Gilliland, John (October 31, 1972). "Pop Chronicles 1940s Program #11". UNT Digital Library. Retrieved October 31, 2020.
  6. ^ Gilliland 1994, tape 1, side B.
  7. ^ Abrams, Steven; Settlemier, Tyrone Capitol Records in the 1500 to 1999 series Online Discographical Project. Retrieved October 28, 2011
  8. ^ Nick Tosches, The Unsung Heroes of Rock 'N' Roll:The Birth of Rock in the Wild Years before Elvis, 1991, ISBN 0-436-53203-4
  9. ^ Jim Dawson and Steve Propes, What Was The First Rock 'N' Roll Record, 1992, ISBN 0-571-12939-0
  10. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 61–62. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  11. ^ Lonergan, Hit Records, 1950-1975, p. 163,
  12. ^ Levinson, September in the Rain, p. 104: "... he contacted Nelson [Riddle] to write for Ella Mae Morse. Their first endeavor together was "Oakie Boogie," which turned out to be a minor hit."
  13. ^ Holden, Stephen (October 18, 1999). "Ella Mae Morse, 75, Vocalist Who Transcended Pop Genres". The New York Times.
  14. ^ Holden, Stephen (June 26, 1987). "Pop/Jazz; THE VOICE OF VINTAGE JAZZ AT MICHAEL'S". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "ELLA MAE MORSE - GET ON BOARD, LITTLE CHILLUN - 1942". YouTube. January 18, 2008. Archived from the original on December 12, 2021.
  16. ^ a b c d Vera, Billy (2000). From the Vaults Vol. 1: The Birth of a Label – the First Years (CD). Hollywood: Capitol Records. pp. 2–8.
  17. ^ Coffey, Kevin (1997). Ella Mae Morse booklet, Bear Family box set BCD 16117 EI
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Abrams, Steven and Settlemier, Tyrone. Capitol100.htm " Capitol 100 - 499". Online Discographical Project. Retrieved November 1, 2011
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Pop Memories 1890-1954. Joel Whitburn. 1986. Record Research Inc. p. 325. ISBN 0-89820-083-0
  20. ^ Vera, Billy (2000). From the Vaults Vol. 5: Roots of Rock 'N' Roll (CD). Hollywood: Capitol Records. p. 8. 72435-28292-2-4.
  21. ^ Abrams, Steven and Settlemier, Tyrone. Capitol1500.htm "Capitol 1500 - 2000". Online Discographical Project. Retrieved November 1, 2011
  22. ^ Abrams, Steven and Settlemier, Tyrone. Capitol2000.htm "Capitol 2000 - 2500". Online Discographical Project. Retrieved November 1, 2011
  23. ^ Abrams, Steven and Settlemier, Tyrone. Capitol2500.htm "Capitol 2500 - 3000". Online Discographical Project. Retrieved November 1, 2011

External links[edit]