HELEN HUMES (By Steve Walker)
Born 23 June 1913, Louisville, Kentucky
Born in Louisville in 1913, Helen Humes got her gift of song from her parents, who often performed duets together at church and social functions. As a child she played piano and organ in church and sang with the local Sunday school band, which boasted future jazz stars such as Dicky Wells and Jonah Jones.
In 1927, aged only 14, she made her first records for the OKeh label in St.Louis. By the time she was a teenager she was a proficient enough vocalist to move to New York and try her luck at making it in the Big Apple. She found work with Stuff Smith and a young Al Sears.
While performing with the Sears band at the Cotton Club in Cincinnati, Helen Humes was spotted by "The King of Swing," Count Basie. He invited her to replace Billie Holiday and join his band as a singer, but she declined because she didn't want to venture too far from home.
She was chosen to record vocals with the newly formed Harry James big band in 1937. Her recordings with the James band on Brunswick included "Jubilee" and "I Can Dream Can't I", "That's The Dreamer In Me" and "Song Of The Wanderer".
The following year, Count Basie again invited her to join his band, and this time she accepted, splitting the vocal duties with Jimmy Rushing. As Jimmy sang the blues, Helen was asked to sing mainly pop ballads. Some of her recordings with Basie included "Dark Rapture", "Blame It On My Last Affair", "And The Angels Sing", "It's Torture" and "Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea".
After her tenure with the Basie band ended in 1941, Helen toured with Clarence Love (1943-44) and the re-located to Los Angeles where she worked as a solo performer. Suddenly swept up in the post war movement in L.A., she switched from a jazz ballad singer to an r&b vocalist and began to get notices in and around the city. A couple of early releases on Savoy turned up in late 1944 : "Fortune Tellin' Man" / "I Would If I Could" and "Keep Your Mind On Me" / "Suspicious Blues".
In 1945 she began recording for the Philo label based in Los Angeles: "Blue Prelude" and "He May Be Your Man" got good airplay in Southern California. The follow up on Philo #106 (later Aladdin) "Be Baba Leba" is probably the recording for which she will be best known on this list. Backed by Bill Doggett's Orchestra, it was a hit record in late 1945 and made the Humes name a big draw among r&b fans in and around Central Avenue. Also worth listening out for is Thurston Harris' remake on Aladdin in 1958
After a spell with Mercury, Helen signed with the newly-formed Discovery label in 1950, where, backed by the Marshall Royal Orchestra, she released "Rock Me To Sleep" and "Sad Feeling", both written by Benny Carter. During this time she appeared at the Club Oasis in L.A. with Nat Cole in a show that was a huge success.
Helen appeared with The Ravens in Salt Lake City in August 1951, and in the autumn, Modern Records released "Million Dollar Secret" and "I'm Gonna Let Him Ride", recorded live at the R & B Jubilee. "Million Dollar Secret" was a good and steady seller for the rest of the year and was her biggest hit in some time. Late in the year Aladdin Records issued an LP entitled "Blues After Hours" (one of the very first r&b LPs) and it included four tunes by Helen.
Throughout the 50's Helen Humes remained active in the recording studio and touring with various r&b revues. She recorded for Modern, Decca, Dootone and Contemporary.
She moved to Australia in 1964, after two successful tours of the country, returning to the USA in 1967 to take care of her ailing mother. She had stopped performing by the late 1960s, and upon her mother's death in 1973, Helen sold her records and piano and resolved never to sing again. However, music critic Stanley Dance asked her to appear with Count Basie at the Newport Jazz Festival later that year and, with her father's blessing, she went. She then remained active until her death in September of 1981.
Helen Humes bridged the link between big bands and rhythm & blues and offered the best of both worlds. An accomplished performer in both fields of music, Humes left a legacy of showing all of us where we were and where we have come. She was a true original and should never be forgotten.
Web page: http://www.home.earthlink.net/~jaymar41/HHumes.html
CD's available: Helen Humes 1945-1947 - Melodie Jazz Classic B00000IX8Y (1999)
plus a further selection at: http://www.ididit.com/i-did-it-mall-cds-artists-Helen-Humes.asp
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