Ina Ray Hutton

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Ina Ray Hutton
Ina Ray Hutton Billboard.jpg
Born Odessa Cowen
(1916-03-13)March 13, 1916
Chicago, Illinois
Died February 19, 1984(1984-02-19) (aged 67)
Ventura, California
Occupation Singer

Odessa Cowan, better known by her stage name Ina Ray Hutton (March 13, 1916 – February 19, 1984), was an American female bandleader, vocalist and performer during the Big band era, and sister to June Hutton.


Ina Ray Hutton (March 13, 1916 – February 19, 1984) was born Odessa Cowan in Chicago, Illinois to parents Marvel Svea Williams and Odie Daniel Cowan. She began dancing and singing in stage revues at the age of eight under the guidance of her then tap and stage dance instructor, Hazel Thompson-Davis. Cowan's mother Marvel Ray was a local pianist and entertainer in Chicago. By the age of 13, Odessa was considered so advanced that she skipped eighth grade and went straight to high school at Hyde Park High School. By the time she was 18 years old, Odessa (Ina Ray) was a seasoned performer having starred in Gus Edwards' revue "Future Stars Troupe" at the Palace Theater, Lew Leslie's "Clowns in Clover", on Broadway she performed in George White's revues: "Melody", "Never Had An Education," "Scandals", and then onto The Ziegfeld Follies all by the time she was 18.

In 1934, she was approached by Irving Mills and vaudeville agent Alex Hyde to lead an all-girl orchestra, the Melodears, which featured musicians including trumpet player Frances Klein, pianist Ruth Lowe Sandler, saxophonist Jane Cullum, guitarist Marian Gange, trumpeter Mardell "Owen" Winstead and trombonist Alyse Wells during its existence. Hutton and her Melodears were one of the first all-girl bands to be filmed for Paramount shorts including Accent on Girls and Swing Hutton Swing and Hollywood feature films under the management of national booking agent Irving Mills. The group disbanded in 1939. In 1940 she led an all-male orchestra that was featured in the film Ever Since Venus (1944); it was disbanded in 1949. During the 1950s, she returned to the all-girl format for a variety television program, The Ina Ray Hutton Show, which ran from 1951 to 1956 on Paramount Television Network's flagship station KTLA in Los Angeles.


There have been theories that Ina Ray (Odessa) and her family were African-American, based on a Census record in their youth. According to actual documents, Odessa's father was Caucasian. His World War I Draft Registration cards list him as being "White." The 1920 & 1930 Census listed Odessa's grandmother Minnie as "Mulatto", her step-grandfather Bailey McFall as "Negro" and her mother, she and her younger sister as "Mulatto." At the time, according to history, anyone that was mixed with any sort of ethnicity besides Caucasian would have been considered "Mulatto", even Native-Americans. It was unlawful to be acknowledged or listed as a Native-American, thus in many Census records people of Native-American descent were actually listed as "Mulatto" and even sometimes as "Colored" or "Negro." There were many Census records that listed anyone mixed of Hispanic, Asian, Native-American or African-American as "Mulatto."

According to an interview with Ina Ray's niece, her grandmother Marvel told her that she was Cherokee Indian. It is possible that Ina Ray had some African-American ancestry from her mother's side of the family, but it has never been verified as fact. Only Bailey McFall, Ina Ray's step-grandfather was noted as being African-American, or "Negro" in the Census and he was not of any blood relation to Ina Ray. Ina Ray's father, Odie Daniel Cowan was most likely of Irish or Scottish descent. Ina's mother, Marvel also claimed that Ina was the great-grand niece of General George Pickett, of the Confederate Army who led "Pickett's Charge" at the Battle of Gettysburg, meaning that she was also a descendant of the "Old English" families that first settled in Virginia from England.

Personal life[edit]

She married and divorced Lou Parisotto, Randy Brooks and Michael Anter. Her fourth husband, Jack Curtis, preceded her in death.

She retired from music in 1968 and died in 1984 of complications from diabetes, aged 67.


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