A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, singer Dolores O’Neill was the grand-niece of playwright Eugene O’Neill. Aside from her vocal abilities, she aspired to be a writer and had published several short stories by 1940. She made her professional debut in front of the mike on Scranton radio station WGBJ in 1937 with her own fifteen-minute sustaining program. She then spent a year in Rio de Janeiro before returning to the States, where she took a staff singing job at WCAU in Philadelphia. The following year, she was heard by Jack Teagarden, who offered her a job. She joined Teagarden in July 1939, becoming one-half of the band’s two female vocalist line-up, the other being Kitty Kallen. She stayed only briefly before, supposedly, joining Artie Shaw. By September 1939 she was with Bob Chester, where she made her first recordings.
O’Neill remained with Chester until November 1940, when she suddenly departed during a one-nighter in Charleston, South Carolina. O’Neill objected to reports in Down Beat that she’d walked out on Chester, saying instead that she had become suddenly ill and had to be rushed to New York. Doctors ordered her not to leave the city, so she was unable to continue with the band. She also denied reports that she was engaged to former Chester trumpet player, Alec Fila, who had since moved on to Benny Goodman’s band. Fila and O’Neill quietly married in early 1941 however. In August 1941, Billboard reported that she’d left Chester because of the “stork.”
Back in New York, O’Neill quickly landed a regular spot on the popular NBC radio musical variety program The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street in January 1941. She left the program later that year to give birth to her first child, returning to Philadelphia and WCAU in August. She was back in New York that October for more appearances on Basin Street. In March 1942, Columbia offered her a recording contract, but nothing seems to have come from that.
By early 1943, O’Neill was back in Philadelphia singing on WCAU again, and in April of that year she made a guest appearance on CBS radio. In September 1944, she gave birth to her second child, a daughter. In 1946, she recorded on the Cosmo label, a small imprint published by Cosmopolitan magazine, and in late 1948 she and Fila, both living in Philly, made a failed attempted to start a Mr. and Mrs. orchestra. O’Neill was singing with Joe Frasetto’s local band at the time. She gave birth to another daughter in February 1949, and in April filled in with Elliot Lawrence’s orchestra when his regular singer, Rosalind Batton, was out for a throat operation. O’Neill then promptly disappeared from history again for twenty-two years. She eventually moved to Wingdale, New York, where she worked as a columnist on the Harlem Valley Times in 1971. O’Neill passed away in 2006 at the age of 92.
O’Neill is often said to have sang with Gene Krupa’s band. She did not. She “sang” with Krupa when he made a guest appearance, sans orchestra, on Basin Street in 1941, drumming with one of the show’s house bands.
Later sources say O’Neill sang with Shaw, but they also say she sang with Gene Krupa, which was incorrect. Only one contemporary source states that O’Neill sang with Shaw, and that was an interview with O’Neill herself. Most contemporary sources state that she was only with Teagarden and Chester. In late 1939, Shaw’s vocalist was Helen Forrest. He broke up his band in September of that year, and Forrest went to Benny Goodman. There’s little time for O’Neill to have been part of his orchestra. Perhaps, as with Krupa, her connection to Shaw was on a radio program or as a fill-in vocalist. ↩︎
Becoming pregnant outside of marriage would have been a serious public relations disaster in that period of time. ↩︎
O’Neill was another female vocalist who grew younger as she grew older. Obituaries stated that she was 92 when she died in 2006, making her birth year 1914. A newspaper article in January 1940, however, gives her age as 22, indicating a birth year of 1917. An August 1943 article in Billboard gives her age as 25, which would make a birth year of 1918. ↩︎