Carolyn Grey

Photo of Carolyn Grey

California-native Carolyn Grey had already established herself as a popular radio vocalist on the West Coast before singing with the San Francisco-based territorial orchestra of Gary Nottingham in early 1941. After a brief stint with Carl Ravazza, she caught the attention of Woody Herman, who hired her that August to replace Muriel Lane. Grey quickly became Herman’s featured attraction, appearing on the December 1, 1941, cover of Down Beat magazine with Herman and singer-trumpet player Billie Rogers.[1] Gray remained with the band until suddenly quitting in May 1943, the day of the orchestra’s opening at the Hollywood Palladium, leaving Herman without a female singer for the duration of the engagement.[2]

After leaving Herman, Grey played club dates before settling in with Jack Riley’s band at the Aragon in Los Angeles in mid-1944. She made a soundie that year, “Pagliacci Swings It,” with Joe Reichman’s orchestra and singer Hal Derwin. On October 1 of that year, she joined Sonny Dunham’s band in St. Louis, touring the country with them and appearing in one musical short. Her popularity soared while with Dunham. She placed third in Down Beat magazine’s 1944 readers’ poll for best female band singer. She left the band in January 1945 to return to the West Coast, indicting that she’d either soon sign with another name band or get married.

By mid-1945, Grey was with Shorty Sherock’s orchestra, leaving when they went east to reorganize. She then briefly joined Tommy Dorsey in June while his band was at the Casino Gardens in Los Angeles but quit after less than two weeks, joining Anson Weeks at Big Bear Lake resort. She remained with Weeks until the end of that summer, when she left due to strep throat. In late 1945, she made a soundie under her own name and in November began singing with a combo put together by pianist Johnny D’Varga which served as the intermission band at the Hollywood Palladium.

She was singing with the D’Varga combo in January 1946 when Gene Krupa, whose band was featured at the Palladium that week, borrowed her as a last minute replacement for the suddenly departed Anita O’Day. O’Day had given notice to Krupa that she would leave the band at the end of their Palladium run, but after getting ill she quit early, thirty minutes before they were scheduled for a coast-to-coast radio broadcast. Grey sang with Krupa for a few days before Liz Tilton was hired to replace O’Day. Tilton stayed only briefly, however, and Krupa liked Grey so much that he hired her permanently.[3]

Grey’s popularity surged again while with Krupa. She was named sixth most popular female band vocalist in Billboard’s 1947 disk jockey poll, finishing eighth in Down Beat’s 1947 reader poll. She appeared with the orchestra in several films and shorts. In July 1946, she married Krupa’s road manager, Joe Dale, and later became pregnant, leaving the band in April 1947. The couple had a daughter in August.

Grey retired from touring in February 1948 to settle in Hollywood, hoping for film, television and radio work. In March, she briefly formed part of a package combo with vibist Johnny White’s quartet and singer Butch Stone. The combo spent a month at the Swan club in Hollywood before breaking up. Grey then made appearances on CBS. By October 1949, she was back on the road, performing as part of the bill at the Paramount in New York. In March 1951, she joined Jerry Wald’s orchestra, staying a short while. In 1953, she recorded on the Jig-Saw label and in 1954 on Vito.

In a short profile by Down Beat magazine in November 1942, Gray’s age was given as “about 20.” Her favorite singer was Billie Holiday and her favorite band was that of Duke Ellington. She was a fan of the blues and loved to cook, especially spaghetti. In July 1946, Down Beat gave Gray’s age as 23.[4]


  1. The two women were often featured together in publicity photos. ↩︎

  2. Grey quit Herman because the band would soon travel east, and she wanted to stay on the West Coast. Anita O’Day replaced her but left after only a month for the same reason. ↩︎

  3. Ironically, the Palladium was the same club where Grey had left Woody Herman in the lurch by suddenly quitting two-and-a-half years earlier. And even more ironically, O’Day had been Grey’s replacement in Herman’s band. ↩︎

  4. Assuming Grey was telling the truth about her age, she was probably born in late 1922 or very early 1923. ↩︎


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Carolyn Grey.” IMDb. Accessed 30 Dec. 2015.
  3. “Gary Nottingham to Open Saltair Season Tonight.” The Deseret News [Salt Lake City, UT] 30 May 1941: 15.
  4. “Woody Has Girl Trumpeter.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1941: 2.
  5. Photo. Down Beat 1 Dec. 1941: Cover.
  6. “Vaudeville Reviews: Earle, Philadelphia.” Billboard 3 Jan. 1942: 25.
  7. “Making Wax.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1942: 14.
  8. “Profiling the Players: Woody Herman and His Orchestra.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1942: 15.
  9. Smith, Ed. “Two Eye-Filling Attractions with Woody Herman's Band.” San Jose Evening News 17 Apr. 1943: 8.
  10. “Herman Hit Hard by Loss of Soloists.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  11. “Anita O'Day to Sing for Woody.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1943: 1.
  12. “Los Angeles Band Briefs.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1944: 6.
  13. “Wayne Warbles With Woody.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1944: 3.
  14. “Music Grapevine.” Billboard 7 Oct. 1944: 20.
  15. “Los Angeles Band Briefs.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1944: 6.
  16. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1945: 5.
  17. “Carolyn Grey Set for Pics.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1945: 5.
  18. Advertisement. “At the State Theatre.” The Hamlin Herald [Hamlin, Texas] 9 Mar. 1945: 3.
  19. “Carolyn Grey T. Dorsey Chirp.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1945: 1.
  20. “Carolyn Grey Leaves TD for Anson Weeks.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1945: 1.
  21. “Weeks Drops Baton, Lays-Off From Music.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1945: 6.
  22. “Los Angeles Band Briefs.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1945: 6.
  23. “Music-Cocktail: D'Varga.” Billboard 19 Jan. 1946: 34.
  24. “Music as Written.” Billboard 2 Feb. 1946: 22.
  25. “Liz Tilton Takes Krupa Vocals.” Down Beat 11 Feb. 1946: 5.
  26. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 23 Mar. 1946: 32.
  27. “Music as Written.” Billboard 26 Apr. 1947: 23.
  28. “Time Out.” Billboard 3 Aug. 1946: 24.
  29. “Krupa Ork Hit Hard—By Love!.” Down Beat 12 Aug. 1946: 1.
  30. “Analyzing Band Poll.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1947: 17.
  31. “Jocks Tab Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 Aug. 1947: 20.
  32. “Births.” Billboard 9 Aug. 1947: 49.
  33. “Girl Singer (With Band).” Down Beat 31 Dec. 1947: 12.
  34. “On the Sunset Vine.” Down Beat 11 Feb. 1948: 9.
  35. “Music as Written.” Billboard 21 Feb. 1948: 35.
  36. “Stone, White, Grey In Fast Package.” Down Beat 24 Mar. 1948: 2.
  37. “White-Stone-Grey Combo Breaks Up.” Down Beat 21 Apr. 1948: 9.
  38. “Carolyn Grey Into Unshuttered Slapsy's.” Down Beat 25 Feb. 1949: 1.
  39. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 8 Oct. 1949: 47.
  40. “Music As Written.” Billboard 31 Mar. 1951: 20.
  41. “Los Angeles Band Briefs.” Down Beat 4 May 1951: 13.
  42. “Popular Record Reviews.” Billboard 20 Jun. 1953: 54.
  43. “Leaders Share Band On Date.” Down Beat 21 Aug. 1954: 29.
  44. “Music as Written.” Billboard 3 Aug. 1954: 38.