Saturday, January 09, 2010


Jazz and blues vocalist Mary Elizabeth Roche, best known as Betty Roché, was born on January 9th,1920 in Wilmington,Delaware. Like Ella Fitzgerald, she began her career when she was 17 by winning an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She sang with the Savoy Sultans in 1941-2, and with Hot Lips Page and Lester Young.
She joined Ellington's band in 1943 as a replacement for Ivie Anderson, and did so just in time for the Orchestra's first major Carnegie Hall concert, where she attracted attention for her powerful delivery in Black, Brown and Beige. She was featured in the "Blues" section of the suite, and was particularly adept on blues songs. Ironically, however, she had left the band before it recorded the piece in the studio, with Joya Sherrill as vocalist (the concert recording with Roche was eventually released in the 1970s), a twist of fate which also applied to her version of "Take The A Train", which she sang in the film Reveille With Beverly in 1943, but did not record until she rejoined the band in 1952, although her version of it on the Ellington Uptown album was greatly acclaimed.
Typifying the episodic nature of Roche's career, the band broke up soon after she joined it. She made her first record on the band's last recording session, a song called “At's In There.” She also sang briefly for bands led by the tenor sax player Lester Young and trumpeter Hot Lips Page.
Her recording of "Take the A Train" with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1952 has remained one of the most famous and enduring of Ellington's recordings, and the song with which she is associated.
She traveled to Hollywood in 1942 with the Ellington band to make the film Reveille With Beverly (also featuring Frank Sinatra and the Count Basie and Bob Crosby bands). Roche was to sing “Take the A Train”. As she sang “You'll find it's the quickest way to get to Harlem”, the train was shown - typical of Hollywood - racing across the open prairie. The American musicians' union (the AFM) had imposed a ban on recording that lasted throughout Roche's period with Ellington and she was thus denied the fame that would undoubtedly have come to her had she featured on the band's records.
In January 1943 Ellington's became the first black band to give a concert at Carnegie Hall. That evening he gave the first performance of one of his most controversial compositions, his 45-minute “Black, Brown and Beige” suite. Roche sang the famous “Blues” section, with its pyramid-like construction of lyrics. The concert was recorded, but the results were not issued until 40 years later. By the time Ellington recorded a studio version in 1944, Roche had left the band.
Roche left Ellington during 1943, eventually joining the band led by the pianist Earl Hines in 1944, with whom she also recorded.
Again, she didn't stay long, and left music altogether for a number of years, unexpectedly rejoining Ellington in 1951. In June 1952 she recorded the extended version of “Take the A Train” with the band, and this became so successful that Ellington repeated it in all his broadcasts of the time. It was to be the high point of her career, and when she left the band again in 1954 Ray Nance, a highly original trumpeter and singer with the band, continued to use the version of the song that Roche had created. The album that included Roche's performance of the song is still a big seller today, and it is this version, rather than the original solely instrumental version that most people remember.
Roche's career remained erratic. She recorded an album for the Bethlehem label in 1956, predictably called “Take the A Train,” and another, “Singin' and Swingin',” for Prestige in 1960. Her last album was done for Prestige the following year.
Although she worked sporadically in clubs, she seemed to be half-hearted about her career, and eventually slipped into obscurity a few years later. Ellington wrote of her in his auto- biography, “She had a soul inflection in a bop state of intrigue and every word was understandable despite the sophisticated hip and jive connotations.”
Betty Roche passed away on February,1999.
"Betty sings "Trouble,Trouble"
Reference - Steve Voce

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