Beryl Davis (16 March 1924 – 28 October 2011) was a vocalist who sang with British and American big bands. Her younger sister is Lisa Davis Waltz, a teen actress in the 1950s and 1960s and later, the voice of Anita in Disney's 101 Dalmatians. Her career spanned eight decades in the UK and US.
If anyone was ever destined to be a Big Band singer, it must have been Beryl Davis. Beryl was born in Plymouth, where her father, the bandleader Harry Davis, was appearing at the town's Palace theatre. She sang with his band from the age of eight. In 1934, she won the All Britain Tap Dancing Championship and would, in her words, "sing one and dance two", frequently arriving at school the following morning with her stage make-up barely removed. She was, she admitted later, not a good student.
By her mid-teens, Davis was a fully fledged professional, singing first with the Romany band in London and performing in Paris and Copenhagen in early 1939 with the much-lauded Quintet of the Hot Club of France (with a chaperone), which included the guitarist Django Reinhardt and the violinist Stéphane Grappelli. In the same year she was briefly with Oscar Rabin's dance band (her father had been Rabin's guitarist and frontman) before meeting up again with the Hot Club group, this time in London and recording with them for Decca. She then joined Arthur Young's orchestra for a year starting in late 1939, doubling in the show Black Velvet. After yet more time with Rabin, she spent a year with the very popular Geraldo orchestra, her clear, pure style comparable to that of another very popular entertainer of the time, the singer Vera Lynn.
It is perhaps for her association with Grappelli (who had stayed on in London despite the blitz) that she is best remembered in the UK. Davis toured with his Swingtette, with Shearing on piano from 1942 onwards, recording and broadcasting regularly on the BBC, as often as 10 times a week, somehow "dodging the bombs".
She was also on hand to sing on record and in person with the many forces bands then based in London including the Skyrockets, the Squadronaires and the Allied Expeditionary Force orchestras led by Robert Farnon and George Melachrino, as well as the all-star US big bands fronted by Sam Donahue and Glenn Miller. She clearly revelled in the opportunity to record with Miller's star sidemen, who included the pianist Mel Powell and the drummer Ray McKinley. A booking with Miller's Army Air Force band at the Queensbury Club, London, in December 1944, was a defining moment for her; after hearing her sing I'll Be Seeing You, Miller said, "Good show, kid. I'll be seeing you." Three days later, Miller's plane disappeared over the Channel and he was lost.
Beryl made her silver screen bow with 1946's "London Town.” The comedian Bob Hope encouraged Davis to immigrate to the US in January 1947. She debuted there on his radio show, later performing with the bandleaders Benny Goodman and Vaughan Monroe, and becoming a familiar presence on radio shows hosted by Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle and Red Skelton, and many others. After her marriage to the radio and TV star Peter Potter (family name Moore), and by now a US citizen, Davis concentrated on raising her family, although she achieved renewed prominence in 1954 when she formed a gospel group with the singer Connie Haines and the actors Jane Russell and Rhonda Fleming. All four worshipped at St Stephen's episcopal church in Hollywood; known as the Four Girls, they had a surprise hit with Do, Lord, & Remember Me. They recorded sixteen singles, and albums which became best sellers and also toured the UK.
A resident of Southern California from the 1940s on,
Beryl remained active as a performer well into advanced age. She made concert
performances with Mel Torme, Les Brown and his Band of Renown, the Tex Beneke
Band---"A Salute to Glenn Miller" series. She also had guest spots
with the highly acclaimed military bands, Airmen of Note and U.S. Army Band in
Washington, D.C.. In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California,
Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her. In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm
Springs, California, Palm Springs Walk of Stars was dedicated to her.
Beryl Davis, left, with Connie Haines, Jane Russell and Rhonda Fleming in 1954
After her marriage to Potter foundered in 1965, Davis and her new partner, Buck Stapleton, formerly Miller's drummer, created package shows for cruise ships for more than 20 years. Even after Stapleton's death in 2003, Davis continued to make guest appearances onboard ship. She returned to London to appear at Pizza On the Park in May 2001.
Beryl Davis died due to Alzheimer's on Oct. 28, 2011 at age 87.
(Info mainly edited from an obit by Peter Vacher for The Guardian)
Beryl Davis singing with the Bill Baker Big Band at the Glenn Miller Festival, at twinwood, Bedfordshire, England in 2003