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Mildred Bailey: The Rockin' Chair Lady - Her 52 Finest 1929-1947



Here is the finest double CD available of one the greatest of all jazz singers. Washingtonian Mildred Rinker (1907-1951) took her first married name to become, as “Mildred Bailey”, the first truly great white jazz singer. In every way she was a big star; she was built on a huge scale, and she outsold all other jazz ladies of the 30s apart from Billie Holiday. Mildred Bailey was known as “The Rockin’ Chair Lady” after her great success with Hoagy’s Carmichael’s classic, and that provides the title for Retrospective’s tribute. Here are quite simply the 52 finest recordings she made, spanning from her first-ever disc in 1929 (What Kind O’ Man Is You?), through her golden years of the 30s to her full 1947 version of one of her key songs All Of Me.

Mildred Bailey: The Rockin' Chair Lady - Her 52 Finest 1929-1947


It seems that Mildred Bailey, like so many fine singers of the past, is in danger of being forgotten these days, despite her outstanding recording career. This double CD from Retrospective is therefore very welcome and I hope will help to restore Ms Bailey to her deserved place in the pantheon of female jazz singers, up there with Ella, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.

Born in 1907, Mildred Bailey (nee Rinker) came from a mixed, partly Native American background and all her siblings entered the music business, most famously brother Al, who became with Crosby and Harry Barris, one of Paul Whiteman's Rhythm Boys. She recorded the song that gives this collection its title, and is the opening track, Hoagy Carmichael's ROCKIN' CHAIR in 1937 and it was a big success, but her recording career began as a singer with Eddie Lang & His Orchestra (WHAT KIND O' MAN IS YOU? (another Carmichael composition) in 1929. Two years later she was recording with Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra and Matty Malneck (memorable versions of GEORGIA ON MY MIND and HOME) before joining Paul Whiteman, where she met the musician who was to be a big influence on her and a very successful musical collaborator, as well as her third husband, xylophonist Red Norvo. The mid thirties also saw her recording with Benny Goodman and with her own orchestra which included both Dorsey brothers and Bunny Berigan, as well as an outfit fronted by Norvo. The two tracks with the latter, SMOKE DREAMS and I'VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM are enhanced by the arrangements of Eddie Sauter and her interpretations are sublime.

As a glance at the discographical details confirms, she was always surrounded by stellar musicians and to add to the list already mentioned, Buck Clayton, Edmond Hall, Ben Webster, Ziggy Elman and Teddy wilson are just a few of the others. The second discs covers the years 1937 -1947 and shows no diminution of quality, with her own individual readings of what were big hits for others like THANKS FOR THE MEMORY, DON'T BE THAT WAY and BEGIN THE BEGUINE losing nothing by comparison. There is a particular sequence on disc two from 1938 which is really outstanding comprising SO HELP ME IF I DON'T LOVE YOU, SMALL FRY, MY REVERIE and OLD FOLKS which all exemplify her artistry to the nth degree. Very sad that ill health restricted her career towards the end and that her early death in 1951 robbed us of the opportunity to hear how she would have developed as an album artist in the age of the LP. As it is, she leaves an outstanding legacy for us to enjoy and this set does her ample justice with the usual high production standards we can rely on from Retrospective. Intune International