Jane Pickens circa
1940s to early 1950s
August 10, 1907|
February 21, 1992 (aged 84)|
Newport, Rhode Island
Jane Pickens Langley|
Jane Pickens Hoving
Russell A. Clark or Clarke (1928 - ?)|
William C. Langley
Walter Hoving (1977-1989, his death)
Jane Pickens Hoving (10 August 1907 – 21 February 1992) was an American singer on Broadway, radio and television for 20 years and later an organizer in numerous philanthropic and society events. She was the musical leader of the Pickens Sisters, a trio born on a Georgia plantation that reached national stardom in the 1930s with its own radio show, concert tours and records.
The daughters of Mr. and Mrs. P.M. Pickens, the Pickens sisters, Grace, Jane, Helen (1910–1984), and Patti (1914–1995), were born in Macon, Georgia, and grew up there and in Atlanta. Beginning when the girls were ages 4, 6 and 8, their parents taught them to harmonize. Their father, a cotton broker, played the piano and their mother sang.
At first the sisters sang for friends, then at churches and schools. The family moved to Park Avenue in Manhattan in 1932, and a test recording for Victor made such an impression with radio executives that they hired the sisters unseen. Promoted as "Three Little Maids From Dixie", they appeared in Thumbs Up on Broadway and in a movie, Sitting Pretty.
Signed to Victor as Victor's answer to the popular Brunswick recording artists, Boswell Sisters, they recorded 25 sides for Victor from early 1932 until late 1934. Their records had a much more novel quality than the harder jazz-styled Boswell Sisters' records. Also, as 1932 Victor records had two- and three-part harmonizers, the Three X Sisters, with experimental sweet/swingy tunes. These three groups were the most noted harmonizers of their day.
The Pickens group earned $1 million in five years but dissolved when two sisters left to get married and a fourth, Grace, who was the group's manager, also departed. Grace, married U.S. District Attorney John T. Cahill. Patti married radio actor Bob Simmons.
Serious about her music
Of the sisters Jane Pickens, who arranged the group's numbers, was the most serious about music. She studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Fontainebleau in France and won fellowships at the Juilliard School where she studied with Anna E. Schoen-René. Several times she dropped out of public appearances to resume formal training. She studied for two years with Marcella Sembrich, a Polish coloratura soprano.
She sang in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 in a cast that included Fanny Brice and Gypsy Rose Lee. In 1940 she played opposite Ed Wynn in Boys and Girls Together on Broadway. Brooks Atkinson's review said she had "a most attractive voice."
A turning point came in the 1940s when, unsatisfied with her career, she consulted Robert Alton, a music arranger. He told her that she came across as aloof, which he attributed to her feeling defensive. His analysis was a revelation. "I woke up the next morning absolutely healed," she said. "That wall was just gone."
In 1949 she won acclaim for starring in the lead of Regina, the musical version of The Little Foxes. One review said her performance was "in every way admirable." Jack Gould wrote that she "sings and acts with the ferocity of a poisonous snake." Pickens' other Broadway credits included Music in the Air (1951).
Pickens pursued her music career alone and had wide-ranging success, from musical comedy to opera and nightclub engagements. She had the American Melody Hour on CBS radio and the Jane Pickens Show on NBC radio, as well as a program on ABC television. The World-Telegram said in 1940: "She's probably the most beautiful woman on Broadway with a voice."
She frequently performed benefits for charitable causes, including events for orphans, hospitals, youths, veterans and the disabled. When her career tapered off in the late 1950s, she turned to running hundreds of fund-raising affairs. Among her favorite causes were the Salvation Army and research into heart disease and cerebral palsy, a condition that afflicted her daughter.
She became a noted figure at balls and other society events in New York City, Long Island and Newport. After her career peaked she was married twice to prominent businessmen. First was William C. Langley, a Wall Street broker. After he died, she married Walter Hoving, who had owned Tiffany & Company and Bonwit Teller.
Pickens also painted. Flowers were her favorite subject, roses in particular. She exhibited in galleries and sold dozens of paintings for charity.
She was 84 years old when she died of heart failure in Newport, Rhode Island, on February 21, 1992. She also had a home on Park Avenue in Manhattan. An early marriage to Russell Clark ended in divorce. She was survived by her daughter, Marcella Clark McCormack of Newport and Manhattan, and a sister, Patti Shreve of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
The Jane Pickens Theater, a one-screen arthouse cinema that is the only remaining movie theater in Newport, was renamed after her in 1974. Pickens and her sister Patti performed at the dedication ceremony.
- DeLong, Thomas A. (1996). Radio Stars: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of 953 Performers, 1920 through 1960. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7864-2834-2. P. 216-217.
- "Incognito Debut". Orlando Evening Star. Florida, Orlando. Associated Press. May 11, 1928. p. 9. Retrieved July 23, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Jane Pickens Picked Role; Tomorrow She Will Sing It". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. New York, Brooklyn. October 30, 1949. p. 27. Retrieved August 3, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- Hannan, Caryn (1999). Georgia Biographical Dictionary. State History Publications. p. 416. ISBN 9781878592422. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- Gaver, Jack (April 29, 1953). "For Jane Pickens On Radio". Lubbock Evening Journal. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
Grace is married to John T. Cahill of New York, a former U. S. District Attorney, and they have four children
- Juilliard Archives Anna E. Schoen-René Scrapbook
- "Jane Pickens". Internet Broadway Database. The Broadway League. Archived from the original on 23 July 2018. Retrieved 23 July 2018.
- Earle Marsh and Tim Brooks, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Programs, 1946-Present, p. 744.
- "Miss Jane Pickens Weds Russell Clark". The Atlanta Constitution. Georgia, Atlanta. June 9, 1928. p. 13. Retrieved July 23, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "(photo caption)". The Atlanta Constitution. Georgia, Atlanta. September 9, 1928. p. 13. Retrieved July 23, 2018 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Jane Pickens Theater & Event Center | About the JPT". janepickens.com. Retrieved 20 November 2017.