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Helen O'Connell

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Helen O'Connell
O'Connell c. 1943
O'Connell c. 1943
Background information
Born(1920-05-23)May 23, 1920
Lima, Ohio, U.S.
DiedSeptember 9, 1993(1993-09-09) (aged 73)
San Diego, California, U.S.
GenresTraditional pop, popular music, jazz, vocal
Occupation(s)Singer, actress, hostess
Years active1935–1943, 1951–1980
LabelsDecca Records, Vik, RCA

Helen O'Connell (May 23, 1920 – September 9, 1993) was an American singer, actress, and hostess,[1] described as "the quintessential big band singer of the 1940s".[2]

Early life[edit]

Born in Lima, Ohio, O'Connell grew up in Toledo, Ohio. By the time she was 15, she and her older sister, Alice, were singing duets in clubs and hotels and on radio stations in Toledo.[3]


O'Connell launched her career as a big-band singer with Larry Funk and his Band of a Thousand Melodies.[4] She was singing with Funk's band in Greenwich Village when Jimmy Dorsey's manager discovered her.[5]

O'Connell joined the Dorsey band in 1939 and achieved her best selling records in the early 1940s with "Green Eyes",[6] "Amapola", "Tangerine" and "Yours". In each of these Latin-influenced numbers, Bob Eberly crooned the song which Helen then reprised in an up-tempo arrangement.[6] O'Connell was selected by DownBeat readers as best female singer in 1940 and 1941 and won the 1940 Metronome magazine poll for best female vocalist. In a 1993 obituary article, the Associated Press described O'Connell as "the darling of GIs during World War II".[2]

O'Connell retired from show business upon her first marriage in 1943. When her marriage ended in 1951, she resumed her career, achieving some chart success and making regular appearances on television. In 1953, O'Connell and Bob Eberly headlined TV's Top Tunes,[2] a summer replacement program for Perry Como's CBS television show. The program also featured Ray Anthony and his orchestra.[7] In March 1955 O'Connell visited Australia as a support act on the landmark tour headlined by singer Johnnie Ray, which set a new box office record for Australia that stood until the 1964 visit by The Beatles (and during which local media also reported that O'Connell was romantically linked with Ray).[8] O'Connell also was the featured singer on The Russ Morgan Show on CBS TV in 1956.[9] In 1957, she had her own 15-minute program, The Helen O'Connell Show, twice a week on NBC.[2]

O'Connell was one of the first "girls" on NBC's The Today Show, commenting at the time: "I wasn't hired as a singer, I was hired as a talker, a pleasant switch."[3] She had that role from 1956 to 1958.[2]

In 1961, she co-hosted the Desilu-NBC program Here's Hollywood, conducting interviews with celebrities, often in their own homes. O'Connell co-hosted the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants with Bob Barker from 1972 to 1980 and was nominated for an Emmy Award in 1976 for her coverage of the Miss Universe pageant. O'Connell sang duets with Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer, and Dean Martin. She also sang the National Anthem for Super Bowl XV in 1981. O'Connell's 1942 recording of "Brazil" with the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra was a 2009 addition to the Grammy Hall of Fame.

In 1992, O'Connell was featured along with The Andrews Sisters and Kay Starr in the KCET special Those Fabulous 40s.[citation needed] Her final performance was at the Valley Forge Music Festival in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on August 14, 1993.[10]

Personal life and death[edit]

O'Connell was married to wealthy playboy Clifford Smith, Jr., from 1941 to 1951, and novelist Tom T. Chamales from 1957 to 1960,[2] and had four daughters.[10] Her last marriage was in 1991, to arranger-conductor-composer Frank De Vol.[10] It ended with her death on September 9, 1993, in San Diego, California, following a battle with cancer. Her funeral was held at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Westwood, California, where she was a member.[11]


  1. ^ The Annual Obituary - Louise Mooney Collins, Roland Turner - 1993 Page 693 "HELEN O'CONNELL American Singer Born Lima, Ohio, 23 May 1920 Died San Diego, California, 9 September 1993 A ... O'Connell was also the affable host of the Miss Universe Pageant for nine years, and was the longtime television ... "
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Helen O'Connell, big band singer, dies at 73". Standard-Speaker. Standard-Speaker. September 10, 1993. p. 2. Retrieved March 19, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  3. ^ a b McManus, Margaret (January 13, 1957). "Helen O'Connell Starts New Career". The Post-Standard. The Post-Standard. p. 75. Retrieved March 19, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  4. ^ Cusack, Bob (2005). Nostalgia Is What It Was. iUniverse. p. 174. ISBN 9780595361793. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
  5. ^ "Helen O'Connell Still Identified With Dorsey". The Naples Daily News. The Naples Daily News. January 20, 1974. p. 180. Retrieved March 19, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  6. ^ a b 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 2, side A.
  7. ^ Warren, Jill (July 1953). "What's New from Coast to Coast" (PDF). Radio-TV Mirror. 40 (2): 5. Retrieved November 26, 2014.
  8. ^ "Johnnie Ray Is Frantic", The Mirror, Perth W.A., 26 March 1955
  9. ^ O'Brian, Jack (July 9, 1956). "On The Air". The Sandusky Register. The Sandusky Register. p. 2. Retrieved March 18, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  10. ^ a b c "Obituaries: Helen O'Connell". Variety: 42. September 20, 1993.
  11. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (September 10, 1993). "Helen O'Connell; Popular Vocalist in Big Band Style". LA Times.

External links[edit]