Mildred Bailey: 'That Rockin' Chair Lady'

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The Cover of Mildred Bailey,That Rockin' Chair Lady

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MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: You know the frustration of loving something so much, that you want the people you love to be just as enthusiastic about it as you are? It can be a real struggle. Hi, I'm Murray Horwitz, and if my father was still alive, I'll be making him very happy today, because we're adding his favorite singer, Mildred Bailey, to the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library. The CD is That Rockin' Chair Lady.


HORWITZ: Mildred Bailey was one of the first great jazz singers. She learned by listening to the best: Louis Armstrong, blues singers like Bessie Smith, and the popular singer Ethel Waters, as well as the best instrumentalists of the day. "The day" was the 1920s, when she began her career with the pop bandleader Paul Whiteman. But when she began singing with real jazz bands, she came up with a new way of singing — a freedom with the rhythm, wonderful choices of notes, and a natural way of phrasing the lyric that Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and hundreds of other jazz singers admired.


HORWITZ: She sang with some of the very best musicians, whom you'll hear on this CD — Teddy Wilson, Johnny Hodges, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Bunny Berigan, and her husband Red Norvo. It's hard to know exactly why Mildred Bailey wasn't as big a star as some other singers, but there is no doubt about her seamless voice, her musicianship, or her ears. I mean, this is the woman who discovered Bing Crosby, for crying out loud.


HORWITZ: We really agonized over this selection, because there's not one adequate single-disc Mildred Bailey anthology. But, this will get you started, and it'll make my father's spirit very happy. Mine, too, 'cause I think Dad was right. The CD is Mildred Bailey's That Rockin' Chair Lady, and it's on the Topaz Jazz label. The NPR Basic Jazz Record Library is supported by the Lila-Wallace Reader's Digest Fund. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

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