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Mon, 06.23.1913

Helen Humes, Singer born

Helen Humes

On this date in 1913, Helen Humes was born. She was a Black singer.

From Louisville, Ky, she came from a happy, close-knit musical family and learned to play trumpet and piano when she was young.  As a child, she sang with the local Sunday school band, which boasted future jazz stars such as Dicky Wells and Jonah Jones.  In 1927 she made her first records for the OKeh label in St. Louis.  Humes then went to New York where she recorded again, this time accompanied by James P. Johnson, and worked for several years with the orchestra led by Vernon Andrade, star of Harlem's Renaissance Ballroom.

She also recorded with Harry James and in 1937, was offered a job by Count Basie but turned it down because the pay was not enough.  The following year she changed her mind and signed up, replacing Billie Holiday.  Her recordings at this time mixed attractive performances of poor-quality songs and marvelous versions of the better material she was given.  She left Basie in 1941 to freelance, and by 1944 was working on the West Coast and had moved into the then-popular R&B field.  Humes had a big hit with Be-Baba-Leba, recorded with Bill Doggett and on a 1947 session in New York, supervised by John Hammond Jr., she made some excellent mainstream jazz records with Buck Clayton and Teddy Wilson.

By the 1950s, after another big hit Million Dollar Secret, her career slowed significantly and this hiatus continued into the late 1960s when she officially retired to care for ailing members of her family.  In 1973, she was persuaded into an appearance with Basie at the Newport Jazz Festival.  This date was a great success and Humes returned to full-time singing.  Equally at home with ballads, to which she brought faultless jazz phrasing, blues shouting, and R&B rockers, Humes was one of the outstanding singers of her day.   Her light, clear voice retained a youthful sound into her 60s, and her late-period recordings were among the best she ever made. Helen Humes died on September 13, 1981.

To Become a Musician or Singer


All Music Guide

Jazz People
by Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, New York
Copyright 1976
ISBN 0-8109-1152-3

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