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Saturday, 12 April 2014

Helen Forrest born 12 April 1917

Helen Forrest (April 12, 1917 – July 11, 1999) was one of the most popular female jazz vocalists during America's Big Band era. She was born Helen Fogel to a Jewish family in Atlantic City, New Jersey on April 12, 1917. She was the youngest of four children and the only girl; her three brothers were Harry, Ed, and Sam. The Fogels owned a little grocery store. But when Helen was an infant, her father became ill with influenza and suddenly died.
The two oldest brothers, Harry and Ed, were old enough to live on their own when Rebecca Fogel moved to Brooklyn with her two youngest children.
There, Helen’s mother met and married a housepainter by the name of Feigenbaum. Forrest recalled that her parents often asked her not to come home right away after school. As she got older, she began to realize that during the day her home was a brothel. Subsequently, she went to live with her piano teacher, Honey Silverman, and Silverman’s family. While Helen completed grammar school, she continued to take piano lessons, but when Silverman heard her sing, she suggested that Helen concentrate on singing instead. Although Helen did not complete high school, she sang in the school musicals during her years of attendance.

By the time she was fourteen, her older brother Ed had his own band. During one summer, she sang with her brother’s band in Atlantic City. Helen later decided that she wanted to be singer and left for New York City, where she visited song publishers and auditioned for a fifteen-minute air slot for a local radio show. During one of the radio spots, the story goes, a sax player thought that the name Fogel was “too Jewish” and therefore Helen Fogel changed her name to Helen Forrest. In 1934, at seventeen years of age, Forrest got her first job at WNEW, New York, singing commercials. During this time, she sang under anonymous names such as Helen, Hilee, Madlene, and Arlene. When she sang for WCBS, she became “Bonnie Blue” and “The Blue Lady of Song.” When her brother Ed, whose band was playing in Washington, D.C., called her to let her know that there was an opening for a vocalist in the Washington Madrillon Club, Forrest auditioned and soon after began singing in the popular supper club.

While performing at the Madrillon, she gained a reputation for her singing, and bandleader Artie Shaw came to see her. Shaw’s singer Billie Holiday was planning to leave the band, and in 1958 Shaw asked Forrest to go on tour. During the fifteen months she sang with Artie Shaw, his band recorded forty-one sides for RCA Victor’s Bluebird record label. In 1939, while still on the road with Artie Shaw’s band, Forrest married drummer Al Spieldock in Baltimore. Her husband remained in Baltimore, and Forrest resumed her tour. When Shaw dissolved his band, she went back to Baltimore but was soon asked to join Benny Goodman’s band. She told the Pop Chronicles "Benny would look right above your eyebrows, in the middle, right on top of the brow. He was a very strange man." During her two-year tenure with Goodman, she recorded fifty-three sides. In 1941, she joined the Harry James band. The musical alliance of featuring Forrest’s vocals with the band as accompaniment proved very successful. 

It was with the Harry James Orchestra that she recorded what are arguably her most popular numbers, including "I Had the Craziest Dream" and "I've Heard That Song Before" in 1942 and "I Don't Want to Walk Without You." Traveling with the band, Forrest was the only woman among eighteen or more band members. She fell in love with Harry James, maintaining a sporadic love affair until James married actor Betty Grable. In 1943, a few months after James’s marriage, Forrest left the band and appeared in clubs around the country. Her husband divorced her about the same time. Forrest’s agent teamed her up with vocalist Dick Haymes, and together they appeared on their own very popular radio program, running from 1944 to 1947.

Around 1945, Forrest met Paul Hogan, an aspiring actor, at a party. The two began living together and married in 1947. They later separated and divorced in 1956. In the late 1950s, she met businessman Charlie Feinman and married him in 1959. The couple had a son, Michael, in 1960, but the marriage was dissolved in 1961. She continued to perform in major supper clubs around the country, sometimes singing for movie sound tracks as well as performing in “big band nostalgia” tours.

She continued to record, achieving several hits as a soloist and several hits singing duets with Dick Haymes. Forrest recorded approximately seventy-four songs as a solo vocalist—twenty-two for Decca Records, forty for MGM, and twelve for Bell Records. In addition, she recorded for Capitol in 1955–1956, singing the hits she had sung with Harry James. From 1969 to 1974, she rerecorded some of her hits for Reader’s Digest and Time-Life as well. During various periods of “big band nostalgia,” radio broadcasts and shorts were rereleased of Helen Forrest with Artie Shaw’s band, Benny Goodman’s band, Harry James’s band, and Dick Haymes.

Helen Forrest was one of the first singers in the big band era whose vocals were featured throughout a full band arrangement. Before this time, big band vocalists usually sang in the middle of a song. The band would be featured for a full chorus, the vocalist would sing one chorus, and then the band would play another chorus. This arrangement usually confined the singer, not allowing much improvisation in the rhythmic phrasing or melodic line. As well, the song was usually set in the key that suited the instrumentalists’ playing, rather than the vocalist’s range. During the early big band era, few women vocalists had the confidence to ask for individualized arrangements. Despite an unhappy childhood, frequent illness, and personal disappointments, Forrest remained dedicated to her musical profession until the early 1990s, when arthritis forced her into retirement. Over the course of her career, she recorded more than 500 songs. Forrest also acted in several musical films, including Bathing Beauty and Two Girls and a Sailor, which both came out in 1944. She was a civil rights activist as well.

Helen Forrest died from congestive heart failure on July 11, 1999 in Woodland Hills, California at the age of 82. Her final resting place is in Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California. (Info edited from

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For Helen Forrest – Original Studio Radio Transcriptions (1949-1950) go here:

01.My Ideal {01:59}
02.Paradise {02:20}
03.Too Marvelous For Words {02:13}
04.I’m Confessin’ {02:17}
05.I’m In The Mood For Love {02:07}
06.You Go To My Head {02:30}
07.I Wanna Be Loved {02:26}
08.Bill {01:57}
09.I Only Have Eyes For You {02:11}
10.I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance {02:02}
11.Deep Purple {02:19}
12.East Of The Sun {02:04}
13.The One I Love {02:01}
14.My Man {02:05}
15.That’s My Desire {02:37}
16.I Hadn’t Anyone ‘Til You {02:29}
17.I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me {02:02}
18.Mad About The Boy {02:07}
19.Embraceable You {02:24}
20.Bewitched {02:02}
21.I’ll Get By {02:07}
22.I’ve Got A Crush On You {01:49}
23.What’s The Use Of Wond’rin’ {02:30}
24.Little White Lies {02:15}
25.How Deep Is The Ocean {02:02}
26.Someone To Watch Over Me {02:10}
27.They Say It’s Wonderful {01:53}
28.My Heart Belongs To Daddy {02:16}
29.Come Rain Or Come Shine {02:22}
30.Baby Won’t You Please Come Home {01:56}
31.I Can’t Give You Anything But Love {02:29}
32.I Can’t Get Started {01:57}
33.I’ll Always Be In Love With You {02:12}
34.Ain’t Misbehavin’ {02:02}
35.What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry {02:14}
36.Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea {02:04}