Helen Humes (June 23, 1913 - September 9, 1981) was an American jazz and blues singer. The versatile Humes was successively a teenaged blues singer, band vocalist with Count Basie, saucy R&B diva and a mature interpreter of the classy popular song. Equally adept at ballads, blues, swingers, and pop, Humes' voice enlivens any situation imaginable.
She was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Emma Johnson and John Henry Humes. She grew up as an only child. Her mother was a schoolteacher, and her father was the first black attorney in town. Humes was introduced to music in the church, singing in the choir and getting piano and organ lessons given at Sunday school by Bessie Allen. Humes began occasionally playing the piano in a small and locally travelling dance band, the Dandies. This constant involvement in music would lead to her singing career in the mid-1920s.
Her career began with her first vocal performance, at an amateur contest in 1926, singing "When You're a Long, Long Way from Home" and "I'm in Love with You, That's Why". Her talents were noticed by a guitarist in the band, Sylvester Weaver, who recorded for Okeh Records and recommended her to the talent scout and producer Tommy Rockwell. At the age of 14 Humes recorded an album in St. Louis, singing several blues songs.
Two years later, a second recording session was held in New York, and this time she was accompanied by pianist J. C. Johnson. Despite this introduction to the music world, Humes did not make another record for another ten years, during which she completed her high school degree, took finance courses, and worked at a bank, as a waitress, and as a secretary for her father. She stayed home for a while, eventually leaving to visit friends in Buffalo, New York. While there, she was invited to sing a few songs at the Spider Web, a cabaret in town. This brief performance turned into an audition, which turned into a $35-a-week job. She stayed in Buffalo, singing with a small group led by Al Sears.
Sears wanted her to sing at Cincinnati's Cotton Club which was an important venue in the Cincinnati music scene. It was an integrated club that booked and promoted a lot of black entertainers. Humes moved to Cincinnati in 1936 and sang with Sears's band again at the Cotton Club.
Count Basie first heard and approached Humes while she was performing at the Cotton Club in 1937. He asked her to join his touring band to replace Billie Holiday., but Humes moved to New York City, where John Hammond, an influential talent scout and producer, heard her singing with Sears's band at the Renaissance Club. Through Hammond, she became a recording vocalist with Harry James's big band. Her swing recordings with James included "Jubilee", "I Can Dream, Can't I?", Jimmy Dorsey's composition "It's the Dreamer In Me", and "Song of the Wanderer". In March 1938 Hammond persuaded Humes to eventually join Count Basie's Orchestra, where she would stay for four years.
She sang few blues during her three years with Basie because he already had a blues singer, Jimmy Rushing. Humes had two Top 10 r&b hits: 1945’s “Be-Baba-Leba” (covered by Lionel Hampton as “Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop”) and 1950’s “Million Dollar Secret.”
In 1950 Humes recorded Benny Carter's "Rock Me to Sleep." Most of her performing was done in the company of jazz musicians, and she made three albums for Contemporary Records between 1951 and ’61 that featured such players as Benny Carter, Teddy Edwards, Wynton Kelly, Barney Kessel, Art Pepper, André Previn, and Ben
Webster. She managed to bridge the gap between big band jazz swing and rhythm and blues. She appeared on the bill at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1960.
|Jimmy Rushing, Count Basie & Helen Humes|
She settled in Australia in 1964 but returned to the U.S. three years later to care for her ailing mother. The singer staged a triumphant career comeback in 1973 and toured and recorded prolifically for the remaining eight years of her life. She moved to Hawaii, and to Australia in 1964, returning to the U.S. in 1967 to take care of her ailing mother. Humes was out of the music industry for several years, but made a full comeback in 1973 at the Newport Jazz Festival, and stayed busy up until her death.
Equally at home with ballads, to which she brought faultless jazz phrasing, blues shouting and R&B rockers, Humes was one of the outstanding singers of her day. Her light, clear voice retained a youthful sound into her 60s, and her late-period recordings were among the best she ever made.
Helen Humes died of cancer, at the age of 68, in Santa Monica, California. She is buried at the Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood, California.(Edited mainly from Wikipedia)