History best remembers singer Allan DeWitt as the vocalist Tommy Dorsey let go so that he could hire Frank Sinatra. DeWitt, a Chicago native and protege of Andrews Sisters manager Lou Levy, sang and recorded with Tiny Hill’s orchestra in mid-1939 before replacing Jack Leonard in Dorsey’s outfit. Dorsey wasn’t happy with DeWitt, however, and when he learned that he could tempt Sinatra away from Harry James in January 1940, DeWitt was quickly gone. Though he spent less than two months with Dorsey, DeWitt recorded with the band.
After leaving Dorsey, rumors had DeWitt joining Bob Chester. He was with Jan Savitt in May 1940 though, where he remained until at least October 1941, recording several numbers. After leaving Savitt, DeWitt disappeared, prompting Down Beat magazine to post his name in their “Where Is?” column, twice, in November 1942 and March 1944. DeWitt resurfaces in December 1943, having returned to Chicago, where he was singing with Jimmy Jackson’s local orchestra. By June 1944 he was with Wayne King only to be drafted shortly thereafter. Serving in the Army, DeWitt was stationed at Camp Lee, Virginia, in September. He was back in civilian clothes by December 1944, singing with Jackson’s band again. In mid-1947, he was with Joe Curley’s twelve-piece band.
In March 1948, Down Beat again asked where he was. The answer was leading his own band in Chicago. In 1949, he both recorded with that group and later as vocalist with Frankie Master’s orchestra on the small Chicago-based indie label Barthel. He remained with Masters through at least October 1951, touring with the band throughout the Midwest region.
DeWitt vanishes again from 1952 to 1955. In 1956, he returns, leading his own band in the Chicago area and continuing to do so through at least 1967, with the exception of a brief period in early 1957 when he sang for Eddie Neibaur’s group. In 1984, DeWitt, then living in Berwyn, was a member of a Chicago-area club called the Browsers, big band experts who did guests spots on Bill Hubbard’s local WAIT-AM swing era radio show.
In 1940, DeWitt had a loyal fan among the prisoners at Pontiac Reformatory in Illinois. This particular prisoner used two of his allotted four letters a month to write to the singer. In one letter, the prisoner lamented that his Down Beat subscription had expired, and DeWitt promptly renewed it for him.
In later years, DeWitt amusingly claimed to have been the one who replaced Sinatra when Sinatra left Dorsey! A 1943 newspaper article billed him “the Frank Sinatra of Chicago.” DeWitt also claimed to have sang for Jack Teagarden and Matty Malneck, both of which are unverified. ↩︎
Down Beat was headquartered in Chicago but seemed to not know that DeWitt was performing in local clubs. ↩︎
DeWitt’s orchestra consisted of seven-pieces in 1964. ↩︎