Betty Bonney

aka Betty Jane BonneyJudy Johnson

Singer Betty Bonney worked with several bands in the early 1940s but is perhaps best remembered for her time with Les Brown’s orchestra. Bonney initially shot to fame in 1942 when she sang on Brown’s first hit record. Also billed as Betty Jane Bonney, she started a moderately successful solo career in 1944 but by the end of the decade had begun to struggle. In 1950, she changed her professional name to Judy Johnson and made a fresh start, eventually marrying arranger and orchestra leader Mort Lindsey. She continued to sing into the 1960s.

Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Bonney lived in a variety of locations growing up, including Savannah, Georgia, in 1930 and Newark, New Jersey, in 1935. Her father, a purchasing clerk for a railroad, moved around for his job. The family relocated to Norfolk, Virginia, in the mid-1930s, where they seemed to have remained into the early 1940s.[1]

Bonney began her professional career at age eight, when she earned a regular solo spot on a children’s radio program. At age eleven, she had her own fifteen-minute program on Newport News, Virginia, radio station WGH, and by the following year she had begun to sing with local orchestras, ending up as regular vocalist for the Auburn Cavaliers out of Auburn College, Alabama, in 1938. The band toured the South with the Gene Austin tent show in 1939 before settling in New York in early 1940, where they fell under the leadership of Colonel Manny Prager, who had been featured saxophonist with Ben Bernie.

In early 1941, Bonney likely sang for Charlie Spivak’s early band[2] before joining Jimmy James, who led a highly popular Midwestern orchestra. She left James for Les Brown in May 1941, singing on the band’s first big hit, “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.”[3] She remained with Brown until August 1942, when she quit after marrying army officer Douglas Broyles in June. Broyles ended up overseas, and Bonney went back to work, singing with Jan Savitt’s orchestra in early 1943, leaving in May of that year for Jerry Wald, where she stayed until at least November. In February 1944, she was vocalist for Frankie Carle’s first orchestra, singing during the band’s debut at the Hotel Pennsylvania. She quit Carle in May of that year to work on Broadway and study voice.

Solo Career

In 1945, Bonney made three soundies for Filmcraft and released six sides on the Victor label. Victor tried a new technique to test Bonney’s sales potential, first releasing only a limited amount of disks in the New York market. The records sold out, and the label then heavily promoted Bonney, prompting singer Dinah Shore to cry foul, claiming that Victor had focused its resources on Bonney and had ignored her own recordings released at the same time. As a result of that promotion, Billboard magazine featured Bonney on its September 22, 1945, cover. She also appeared on WNBT television in November, lipsyncing to her records in-between election coverage reports.

While 1945 proved a good year for Bonney on wax and film as well as in print, she had trouble finding radio work, prompting her to switch booking agencies. She continued singing, appearing on stage and in nightclubs throughout the rest of the 1940s. In 1947 or early 1948, she took time out to have her first child, a daughter. In 1948, Bonney recorded “Baby’s in Bermuda” on the Gem label and also appeared as part of the stage show at the Copacabana. In 1949, she sang and danced in the Broadway musical High Button Shoes. She also toured with the production. In 1949, she signed with the Rainbow label.

In June 1950, Bonney joined Sammy Kaye’s orchestra, changing her professional name to Judy Johnson, though she didn’t stay with Kaye for long. Also in 1950, she made the first of what would be several television appearances throughout the decade, which included guest spots on Arthur Murray’s Dance Party and Guy Lombardo’s short-lived program. She performed multiple times on Your Show of Shows, often with duet partner Bill Hayes.

Johnson recorded two sides with Hayes for MGM in 1952 and two in 1953. In 1953, she recorded solo on the Tempo label as part of a series of disks commissioned by the Navy for enlistment purposes. She also recorded on the Bell label that year. Owned by Pocket Books, Bell released inexpensive 78rpm singles for 35 cents each. In 1956, she made a polka record on Victor.

In 1953, Johnson toured the nightclub circuit with a backing male group, calling her act Judy and Her Dates, and in 1955 she appeared in a New York revival of Guys and Dolls. By the mid-1950s, she and Broyles had divorced, and she married Mort Lindsey, who later went on to lead the orchestra for Merv Griffin’s television program.[4] He also worked as musical director for Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand. Johnson continued singing through the 1960s, often appearing on television.

Mort Lindsey passed away in 2012. According to private sources, Bonney was still alive at the time of singer Louise Tobin’s death in November 2022.


  1. In 1950, the family lived in Essex, New Jersey, where her father worked as a clerk for a steel manufacturer. ↩︎

  2. Bonney reportedly sang for Spivak at some point before May 1945, with early 1941 being the likeliest period of time. ↩︎

  3. Bonney was seventeen years old at the time she joined Brown, though rumors and gossip years later questioned that age, putting her as young as thirteen or fourteen. The source for this confusion comes down to Bonney changing her professional name to Judy Johnson in 1950. With that change, she also magically became younger. The birth date usually listed for Johnson is March 8, 1928. 1930, 1940, and 1950 census records, however, show that she was born in 1924. Ironically, in the early 1940s, Bonney was trying to appear older than she really was. Articles in both Down Beat magazine and a newspaper in early 1940 cite her age as eighteen, and Bonney’s June 1942 marriage certificate to Douglas Broyles lists her age as 21. It’s more likely, though, that she lied in order to get married without parental permission. At that time, the age of legal consent was 21. She also incorrectly lists Bridgeport, Connecticut, as her home address on the certificate, though her family lived in Virginia. ↩︎

  4. Gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen had falsely reported in 1945 that Bonney had divorced Broyles and married a recording executive. She and Broyles were still married and living together in April 1950. ↩︎


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “In Revue Here Wednesday.” Hattiesburg American [Hattiesburg, Mississippi] 11 Sep. 1939: 9.
  3. “Shapely.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1940: 24.
  4. “Auburn and 'The Colonel' Have Taken Over Memphis' Hotel Claridge.” The Auburn Plainsman [Auburn, Georgia] 26 Mar. 1940: 2.
  5. Irving, Floyd. “Swinging Along.” The Daily Nebraskan [Lincoln, Nebraska] 5 Apr. 1940: 3.
  6. “Prager Combo Gets Praise.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1940: 19.
  7. “Amusements: Indiana Roof.” Cambridge City National Road Traveler [Cambridge City, Indiana] 6 Mar. 1941: 2.
  8. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 31 May 1941: 10.
  9. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 31 Jan. 1942: 22.
  10. “Les Brown's New Chirp.” Billboard 22 Aug. 1942: 25.
  11. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand: New York.” Billboard 17 Apr. 1943: 14.
  12. “Betty Bonney Goes to Wald.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1943: 5.
  13. “On the Stand: Jan Savitt.” Billboard 24 Jul. 1943: 17.
  14. “Jerry Wald Debut at Hamid's Pier.” The Sunday Morning Star [Wilmington, Delaware] 25 Jul. 1943: 32.
  15. “She Vocalizes.” The Cedar Rapids Gazette [Cedar Rapids, Iowa] 31 Oct. 1943: 5.
  16. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 13 Nov. 1943: 22.
  17. “Frankie Carle In NYC Bistro.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1944: 1.
  18. “On the Stand: Frankie Carle.” Billboard 26 Feb. 1944: 16.
  19. “Bands Dug by the Beat: Frankie Carle.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1944: 3.
  20. “Music Grapevine.” Billboard 27 May 1944: 99.
  21. Kilgallen, Dorothy. “On Broadway.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 17 Apr. 1945: Daily Magazine, 2.
  22. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 31 Mar. 1945: 14.
  23. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 28 Apr. 1945: 72.
  24. “RCA Uses Limited Area Sales Tests on Bonney Disks.” Billboard 19 May 1945: 27.
  25. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 19 May 1945: 27.
  26. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 23 Jun. 1945: 66.
  27. “Dinah Isn't Sore Over Bonney Ads, Just Me, Too-ing.” Billboard 21 Jul. 1945: 15.
  28. “Oberstein Back to RCA-Victor To Handle Rep and Artists' Slot.” Billboard 21 Jul. 1945: 15.
  29. “Bonney, Morris Phfft Over Radio.” Billboard 4 Aug. 1945: 15.
  30. “Chi Columnist Has Own Juke Survey to Tab Top Tunes.” Billboard 15 Sep. 1945: 85.
  31. Cover Billboard 22 Sep. 1945: 1.
  32. “Betty Jane Bonney.” Billboard 22 Sep. 1945: 20.
  33. “Television: Reviews: N.Y. Elections, 1945.” Billboard 17 Nov. 1945: 12.
  34. Advertisement Billboard 24 Jan. 1948: 68.
  35. “Night Club Reviews.” Billboard 17 Apr. 1948: 6.
  36. Herzog, Buck. “Reviews of New Shows: High Button Shoes.” The Milwaukee Sentinel 3 Dec. 1949: 5.
  37. “Music As Written.” Billboard 6 Aug. 1949: 33.
  38. “Music As Written.” Billboard 24 Jun. 1950: 19.
  39. “Sidemen Switches.” Billboard 14 Jul. 1950: 10.
  40. “The Show of- Still Great But May need Some Changed.” Billboard 22 Sep. 1951: 3.
  41. “MGM Signs Pact for TV's Judy Johnson.” Billboard 29 Mar. 1952: 20.
  42. “Diskeries Balk at Long-Term Pacts.” Billboard 29 Mar. 1952: 20.
  43. “Tempo Etches Navy Shows.” Billboard 4 Apr. 1953: 11.
  44. “Night Club Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 4 Jul. 1953: 13.
  45. “Night Club-Vaude: Cocoanut Grove, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles.” Billboard 26 Dec. 1953: 43.
  46. “35-Cent Pop 78's Make Bow Sept. 1.” Billboard 29 Aug. 1953: 20.
  47. “'Guy Lombard' Sales Moving Briskly.” Billboard 6 Nov. 1954: 5.
  48. Bundy, June. “Disk Stars' Aliases Thicker Than a P.O. Bulletin Board.” Billboard 21 May. 1955: 39.
  49. “Night Club: Guys and Dolls, City Center, New York.” Billboard 11 Jun. 1955: 14.
  50. Hevesi, Dennis. “Mort Lindsey, TV Bandleader and Accompanist to Stars, Dies at 89.” The New York Times 9 May 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
  51. McLellan, Dennis. “Mort Lindsey dies at 89.” Los Angeles Times 10 May 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
  52. “Reviews of New Polka Records.” Billboard 24 Nov. 1956: 46.
  53. “Talent on the Road.” Billboard 11 Jan. 1960: 54.
  54. “Virginia, Marriage Certificates, 1936-1988,” FamilySearch ( : Sun Oct 15 15:31:28 UTC 2023), Entry for Douglas C Broyles and Douglas C Broyles, 11 Jun 1942.
  55. “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch ( : Thu Oct 05 08:37:26 UTC 2023), Entry for Albert Bonney and Doris Bonney, 1930.
  56. “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch ( : Tue Nov 28 19:04:16 UTC 2023), Entry for Albert W Bonney and Doris V Bonney, 1940.
  57. “United States Census, 1950,” FamilySearch ( : Thu Mar 21 00:18:13 UTC 2024), Entry for Betty J Broyles and Douglas C Broyles, 10 April 1950.