Mildred Bailey

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Mildred Bailey
Mildred Bailey (Gottlieb 00411).jpg
Bailey in New York, 1947
Background information
Born (1907-02-27)February 27, 1907
Tekoa, Washington, U.S.
Died December 12, 1951(1951-12-12) (aged 44)
Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Singer
Instruments Vocals
Associated acts Red Norvo, Bing Crosby

Mildred Rinker Bailey (February 27, 1907 – December 12, 1951) was a popular and influential American jazz singer during the 1930s, known as "The Queen of Swing", "The Rockin' Chair Lady" and "Mrs. Swing". Some of her best-known hits are "It's So Peaceful in the Country", "Trust in Me", "Where Are You?", "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart", "Small Fry", "Please Be Kind", "Darn That Dream", "Rockin' Chair", "Blame It on My Last Affair", and "Says My Heart".


Bailey was born Mildred Rinker in Tekoa,[1] Washington. Her mother, Josephine, was an enrolled member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe[2] and a devout Roman Catholic.[3] Her father, Charles, played fiddle and called square dances. Her mother played piano every evening after supper and taught Mildred to play and sing. Her brothers were the vocalist and composer Al Rinker and the lyricist Charles Rinker.[4]


At the age of seventeen, Bailey moved to Seattle and worked as a sheet music demonstrator at Woolworth's. She married and divorced Ted Bailey, keeping his last name because she thought it sounded more American than Rinker.[3] With the help of her second husband, Benny Stafford, she became an established blues and jazz singer on the West Coast. According to Gary Giddins, in his book Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903–1940, in 1925 she secured work for her brother, Al Rinker, and his partner, Bing Crosby. Giddins further states that Crosby first heard of Louis Armstrong and other Chicago black jazz records from Bailey's record collection. Crosby helped Bailey in turn by introducing her to Paul Whiteman. She sang with Whiteman's band from 1929 to 1933. According to Giddins, Whiteman had a popular radio program, and when Bailey debuted with her version of "Moanin' Low" in 1929, public reaction was immediate, although she did not start recording with Whiteman until late 1931.

Her first two records were as uncredited vocalist for a session by the Eddie Lang Orchestra in 1929 ("What Kind o' Man Is You?", a Hoagy Carmichael song that was issued only in the UK) and a 1930 recording of "I Like to Do Things for You" for Frankie Trumbauer. She was Whiteman's popular female vocalist through 1932 (recording in a smooth crooning style), when she left the band over salary disagreements. She then recorded a series of records for Brunswick in 1933 (accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers) and all-star session with Benny Goodman's studio band in 1934, featuring Coleman Hawkins.[citation needed]

In the mid-1930s, she recorded with her third husband, Red Norvo. A dynamic couple, they earned the nicknames "Mr. and Mrs. Swing". From 1936 to 1939 Norvo recorded for Brunswick (with Bailey as primary vocalist) and Bailey made her own recordings for Vocalion, often with Norvo's band. Some of her recordings instead featured members of Count Basie's band. Despite their divorce, the two continue to record together off and on until 1945. She also sang on a number of Benny Goodman's Columbia recordings in 1939 and 1940.

A large woman, she suffered from diabetes and depression. She only made a few recordings following World War II.

Bailey died of heart failure, due chiefly to diabetes, on December 12, 1951, in Poughkeepsie, New York, aged 44. Her ashes were scattered. Norvo outlived Bailey by nearly half a century, dying in April 1999, a week after his 91st birthday.[citation needed]


Hit singles[edit]

(Vocalion releases only)

Year Single US Cat. No.
1936 "For Sentimental Reasons" 18 3367
"More Than You Know" 15 3378
1937 "Trust in Me" (A-side) 4 3449
"My Last Affair" (B-side) 10 3449
"Where Are You?" 5 3456
"Never in a Million Years" 8 3508
"Rockin' Chair" 13 3553
"It's the Natural Thing to Do" 14 3626
"Bob White (Whatcha Gonna Swing Tonight?)" 14 3712
"Right or Wrong" 19 3758
1938 "Thanks for the Memory" 11 3931
"Don't Be That Way" 9 4016
"I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" 8 4083
"Small Fry" 9 4224
"So Help Me" 2 4253
"My Reverie" 10 4408
1939 "Blame It on My Last Affair" 13 4632
"Moon Love" 14 4939

Notable recordings[edit]

The following are some of Bailey's best-known recordings.

In March 1939, Mildred fronted a six-side, mostly blues session as "Mildred Bailey and Her Oxford Greys" for the Vocalion Records label, which featured a small mixed-race combo of Mary Lou Williams (piano), Floyd Smith (electric guitar), John Williams (bass) and Eddie Dougherty (drums). The song titles recorded were: There'll Be Some Changes Made [matrix number 24228]; Barrel-House Music [24229]; Arkansas Blues [24230]; Gulf Coast Blues [24231]; You Don't Know My Mind Blues [24232]; Prisoner Of Love [24233]. They were released on the following Vocalion 78rpm 10" records: #4800; #4801; #4802; #5268.

Number one hits[edit]

In 1938, Bailey had two number one hits with Red Norvo. "Please Be Kind" was number one for two weeks. She also sang lead vocals on "Says My Heart" by Red Norvo and his Orchestra, which was number one for four weeks on the pop charts. "Says My Heart" reached number one during the week of June 18, 1938. Bailey sang lead vocals on "Darn That Dream", recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, which reached number one for one week in March 1940 on the U.S. pop singles chart.[citation needed]


In 1989, Bailey was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.


  1. ^ "Mildred Bailey Biography". 
  2. ^ Miller, John. "Idaho tribe: ‘Mrs. Swing’ was Indian.", The Wenatchee World, March 16, 2012; retrieved March 27, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Giddins, Gary (January 2001). Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams: The Early Years, 1903–1940. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-88188-0. [page needed]
  4. ^ "Death Takes Mildred Bailey, Blues Singer", Seattle Daily Times, December 13, 1951.

Further reading[edit]

  • The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz 1900-1950 by Roger D. Kinkle (Arlington House Publishers, 1974)

External links[edit]