Ivy Benson (11 November, 1913 – 6 May, 1993) was the bandleader of a renowned all-girl band (Ivy Benson and her All Girls Orchestra) for over forty years.
Ivy Benson was born in 1913, in Holbeck, a suburb of Leeds, West Yorkshire. She was a very accomplished musician on electric organ, piano, saxophone and clarinet, and led a renowned all girls band for over 40 years. The interest in music came from her father, who played various instruments in the Leeds Symphony Orchestra and other smaller ensembles as diverse as theatre pit bands and a musical comedy group "The Ten Loonies".
Under his careful tuition Ivy learnt to play the piano from the age of five; by the time she was nine she was performing on the BBC's "Children's Hour", and in local working men's clubs under the name of "Baby Benson". Her father had greater ambitions for his daughter, wanting her to become a concert pianist; however preferred the more popular music and progressed to the clarinet and alto saxophone. In her early teens she won a scholarship to the Leeds College of Art, but then moved on to work in the Montague Burton tailoring factory, continuing to play at social and dance events in her spare time.
After spending 3 years with Edna Croudson's Rhythm Girls she toured with Teddy Joyce and the Girlfriends, and in the late 1930's moved to London where she soon formed her own small groups. In 1940 the nine piece "Ivy Benson and her Rhythm Girls" was formed for an all girl revue "Meet the Girls" starring the comedienne Hylda Baker.
During the second world war she fronted a number of various sized bands, from 12 to 23 piece, sometimes with a string section. She recruited most of her brass players with the help of Harry Mortimer, a leading figure, a cornetist and conductor in brass band music in the UK. Many of the existing male band personnel were then involved in the war leaving many opportunities for Ivy and her girls to become establish; she played leading ballrooms and theaters all over the country, a high point being a 22 week stint at the London Palladium with top acts such as comedian Max Miller and Jimmy James, and piano duo Rawicz and Landauer.
Here's Ivy Benson & her Girls Band with vocals by Kay Yorston and "Homecoming Waltz" recorded 14th October 1943
In 1943 the band was appointed the BBC Resident Dance Band, which created great anger and outrage among other leading male band leaders, notably Billy Ternent. However, she had one great supporter in Joe Loss who stood by her throughout her career. The war created another difficulty for Ivy which became a major problem to her during the war years - the influx of American GI's. Ivy was to lose many of her girls to romance and marriage, and on some occasions had been known to lose a complete section overnight. (Photo of Ivy with Jimmy Dorsey)
Over 250 girls played with the band during it's 40 year life, some starting from the age of 15 years of age, with Ivy being employer, musical trainer and, as one of the girls reported "the mother hen looking after her young". She was a strict but fair boss, but with such a large group of young girls to control and take responsibility for, she would sometimes need to use the strict side of her nature, keeping the girls in line with her signature tune - "Lady be good".
In 1946 Ivy Benson and her Ladies Dance Orchestra were booked for the first post war broadcasts on BBC Television, but was forced to withdraw after the Stoll Theater group, fearful of the repercussions of this All Girl phenomenon, threatened to cancel her contracts. Not to be out done, she began her first tour of Europe, taking the girls to Berlin with ENSA, shortly after the Allied Forces had liberated the city. This was the start of extensive tours ofthe American bases in Germany. One of the high spots was a concert with Josephine Baker in Bavaria and in 1960, Ivy was playing at the Lido, Hamburg, during the time the Beatles were at the Indra Club, just across the road.
The band survived the radical changes which were to affect all large bands from the 1950's; increasing costs and changes in the publics demand for modern popular music altered the music industry for good. Ivy adapted her style, focusing on the nostalgic sounds of the war years. She began to do summer seasons, and the Isle of Man proved to be one of her most popular locations, with up to 6000 in heroutdoor audiences in the Villa Marina Gardens. The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 caused Ivy to change the name of the band to Ivy Benson and her Show band. She had, on occasions, to field the odd application from male players, but would say they could have the job if they could get into a dress size 10-16! By this time the great days of live big band music was gone. The variety theaters had closed and dance hall were now Discotheques.
Ivy continued to front her band for another couple of decades, eventually reducing to a ten-piece as big bands lost out in popularity to the guitar-based groups. She finally called it a day in 1982, the final gig was at London's prestigious Savoy Hotel, although she celebrated her 70th birthday by re-forming her band for Russell Harty's television show.
During her retirement in Clacton-on-Sea she entertained the holidaymakers at local hotels by playing the electronic organ. In May, 1993 Ivy Benson passed away after a heart attack, aged 79 years, in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. It was the end of an era.
Five years earlier she had been awarded an honorary fellowship by Leeds Polytechnic, formerly the Leeds College of Art, the only honour to be bestowed on one of the most popular stars of the 1940s.(info mainly from ivybenson-online.com)
Here’s a clip from the film “The Dummy Talks” (1943) including “The World Belongs To me” (uncredited) and a saxophone solo by Ivy.