Photo by Ralph F. Seghers
|Birth name||Velma Middleton|
|Born||September 1, 1917|
Holdenville, Oklahoma, United States
|Died||February 10, 1961 (aged 43)|
Freetown, Sierra Leone
|Associated acts||Louis Armstrong|
Middleton was born in Holdenville, Oklahoma, and later moved with her parents to St. Louis, Missouri. She started her career as a chorus girl and dancer, and throughout her career performed acrobatic splits on stage despite being overweight. After working as a solo performer, and singing with Connie McLean's Orchestra on a tour of South America, she joined Armstrong's big band in 1942, and appeared with him in soundies.
When Armstrong's orchestra disbanded in 1947, Middleton joined his All-Stars, a smaller group. She was often used for comic relief, such as for duets with Armstrong on "That's My Desire" and "Baby, It's Cold Outside", and she did occasional features. She also recorded eight tracks as a solo singer for Dootone Records in 1948 and 1951. Although she was not widely praised for her voice, described by critic Scott Yanow as "average but reasonably pleasing and good-humored", Armstrong regarded her as an important and integral part of his show.
While touring with Armstrong in Sierra Leone, she had a stroke or heart attack in January 1961, and died the following month in hospital in Freetown. Musician Barney Bigard was critical of Armstrong and his manager Joe Glaser for refusing, after Middleton was taken ill, to arrange her transfer to a country with better health facilities.
- Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 342. ISBN 978-0313344237.
- Biography by Scott Yanow, AllMusic.com. Retrieved 15 November 2016
- Frederick J. Spencer, Jazz and Death: Medical Profiles of Jazz Greats, Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2002, p.26