Monday, July 22, 2013

Ina Ray Hutton: Soulful Siren of Swing

Before Madonna and before Beyonce, there was Ina Ray Hutton! Never heard of her? Neither had I until I stumbled across her on the Internet.

Ina Ray Hutton (March 13, 1916 – February 19, 1984) was an American female band leader during the Big Band era of the 1930s and '40's.  She was also the sister of band singer June Hutton.  

Beautiful and talented, Ina Ray carried a secret to her grave.  But before we discuss that, a little biographical info from Wikipedia follows below.

Ina Ray Hutton began dancing and singing in stage revues at the age of eight and attended Hyde Park High School on the South Side of Chicago. In the 1930s she appeared on Broadway in George White's Scandals and The Ziegfeld Follies.


In 1934 she was asked by a vaudeville agent to lead an all-girl orchestra, the Melodears.  Hutton and her Melodears were one of the first all-girl bands to be filmed for Paramount shorts including Accent on Girls and Swing Hutton Swing and Hollywood feature films. 

Although the group disbanded in 1939, in 1940 Hutton led an all-male orchestra that was featured in the film Even Since Venus (1944); it was disbanded in 1946. During the 1950s, she returned to the all-girl format for variety television programs including the Ina Ray Hutton Show for a local station on the West Coast. 

Here's the secret to her story:  Her parents were identified as "negro" or "mulatto" by census takers. According to Blackpast.org.:

Hutton was born Odessa Cowan at her parents' home in Chicago on March 13, 1916.  Her mother, Marvel (Williams) Cowan, was a newlywed housewife, married to Odie Cowan, a salesman.  By the time Odessa was three years old, she and her mother were living with her maternal grandmother, and her step-grandfather, a dining car waiter for a railroad.  That year, Odessa’s sister, June, was born at home.  When the census taker arrived a few months later, their father was not recorded as a resident of the family home.

Odessa and June grew up among black neighbors on Chicago’s South Side.  Their mother played piano in dance halls and hotel ballrooms.  Odessa studied dance with a prominent black teacher and choreographer, Hazel Thompson Davis.  The Cowans' hometown black newspaper, The Chicago Defender, first wrote glowingly of Odessa’s performances when she was seven.  But the next year, despite the fact that she had the same South Side address into her teens, mentions of Odessa Cowan in the Defender disappeared.  By some accounts, that was the year she was “discovered” by a white vaudeville producer.

When watching Hutton perform to the segregated audiences of the day, she's quite soulful and jazzy, almost with an attitude of I'm pulling one over on you--I'm getting away with it--and I'm laughing all the way to the bank! Good for her!  Here she is performing Truckin' and Suzy Q.  Enjoy the show!

Had you ever heard of Ina Ray Hutton?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

15 comments:

Shelly said...

How fascinating! I'd never heard of her. I love finding out about people like this~

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Shelly, I do, too! There are so many interesting lives to learn about. I'm a film buff, so I was amazed I'd never run across Ina Ray before!

William Kendall said...

I haven't heard about her before. But I've always loved that kind of music.

Old Kitty said...

What a woman!! What a star!! What an amazing gorgeous creature! My goodness!!! I've not heard of her but by golly THANK YOU for introducing me to her - she is BEAUTIFUL!! I love her!!! I'm going to watch these clips again!!

Take care
x

Maria McKenzie said...

@William: Her Melodears were great! Hope you had a chance to watch the YouTube shorts;).

@Kitty: She was gorgeous! Aren't those clips amazing?

Romance Book Haven said...

Interesting and fascinating, Maria. Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it.

Nas

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Nas, glad you enjoyed it!

Norma Beishir said...

I'd never heard of her...but why did she change her name to Ina? Odessa is a much lovelier name....

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Norma, who knows? It was probably the agent's idea. I did read that the Hutton was added to capitalize on the fame of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton.

Maria Perry Mohan said...
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Maria Perry Mohan said...

Hi Maria,

How fascinating. She reminds me a bit of Sweet Sue, that female bandleader in SOME LIKE IT HOT, one of my all time favourite films.

Melissa Ritz said...

I wrote a one-woman show about Ina Ray Hutton's life. More information is available here:
www.journeyofabombshell.com

I adore Ina and The Melodears!

Melissa Ritz said...
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Melissa Ritz said...
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Donna Williams said...

I am just curious as to where you retrieved your information on Odessa and her family? Is it valid?