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Liner Notes

From "Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears" (1934-1944)
Vintage Music Productions 0081 (CD)

I'm selling this show as a music program ...

but if curves attract an audience, so much the better.

~ Ina Ray Hutton

Ina Ray Hutton was born Odessa Cowan, in Chicago, on March 13, 1916. Her professional career began early, when in 1924, she appeared, as a young tap dancer, with a revue produced by Gus Edwards. By 1934, she was appearing in several Broadway shows, including George White's "Melody" and the Ziegfeld Follies. It was also in 1934 that Ina Ray, with the help of Irving Mills, began organizing her Melodear orchestra.

In a time when both bandleaders and musicians were almost exclusively men, Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears represented a rare novelty. Without a doubt, the curiosity of an "all-girl" orchestra, led by a well-proportioned and ceaselessly undulating, young blonde, contributed tremendously to the band's early popularity. But it would be a mistake to conclude, as some critics have suggested, that mere novelty was the only thing standing between them and obscurity. To be sure, few bands, in 1934, could have been expected to go toe-to-toe with a Jimmie Lunceford or a Chick Webb, and the Melodears were certainly no exception. Nevertheless, the band did have its share of genuine talent in such musicians as Ruth Bradley (clarinet, alto sax), Helen Baker (guitar) and Lil Singer (drums). In fact, given that so few opportunities otherwise existed for these women, it is really no surprise that Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears represented the highest concentration of female talent anywhere in the industry.

The Melodear orchestra toured and recorded for five years. During this period, they appeared in several Paramount film shorts, including "Feminine Rhythm" (1935), "Accent On Girls" (1936) and "Swing, Hutton, Swing" (1937). They also appeared in Paramount's feature-length production, "Big Broadcast of 1936."

In 1939, Ina Ray disbanded the group and, in partnership with George Paxton, formed a new, all-male orchestra. This band, too, featured many fine musicians, including Paxton (tenor sax), Hal Schaefer (piano) and Jack Purcell (guitar). For a time, the band also employed future sax headliner, Serge Chaloff.

In the two years prior to the start of World War II, Ina Ray Hutton and Her Orchestra, as the new band was called, made a number of recordings for Okeh and Elite. During the war, however, their greatest source of recorded output came from broadcast transcriptions produced by the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS). These were made during the band's extensive tour of military bases, throughout the country. During this period, the band also appeared in the film short, "Ina Ray and Her Orchestra" (Paramount 1943), and Ina Ray herself had a featured part in the Columbia musical, "Ever Since Venus" (1944).

Ina Ray, again, disbanded her orchestra, in 1944, during that same fateful December when so many big band leaders called it quits. Two years later, she briefly led another all-male band (the band formerly led by Bob Alexander), and in 1949, she married fellow bandleader, Randy Brooks. In 1950, she organized a new all-girl orchestra, which, for several years in the 1950s, reached its audience through the medium of television. In the summer of 1956, she even had her own nationally-televised "Ina Ray Hutton Show." Ina Ray's last recorded performance came in the 1974 movie, "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" She died in Ventura, California, February 19, 1984.

~ Jeff Hopkins
June 2001

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