Born into a musical family, blonde vocalist Dorothy Claire began singing as a young girl, winning first prize in an amateur contest at age six. She received her professional start in 1937, at age sixteen, after attending the University of Notre Dame prom, where the Indiana University dance band was playing. She knew many of the orchestra members, and they asked her to sing. Bandleader Slim Lamar also happened to be in the audience and offered her a job. Her parents initially refused to let her join Lamar’s group but were talked into it by one of her school teachers, who pointed out that she might not get such a break again. It was Lamar who changed her name, using his interest in numerology to choose Dorothy for Dorothy Lamour and Claire for Ina Claire.
Claire left Lamar in 1939 for Bob Crosby’s orchestra, where she appeared on the band’s Camel Caravan radio program. She then joined Bobby Byrne and became a key part of his group’s sound. When Glenn Miller enticed her to leave Byrne in early 1941 to replace the departed Marion Hutton, a feud erupted between Byrne and Miller over the incident, and Claire was sued for breach of contract. She returned to Byrne, however, in March after Miller decided she wasn’t a good fit. She remained with Byrne until he disbanded the orchestra in October 1942 to join the Army Air Force. She then sang for Sonny Dunham’s band, becoming the star attraction in what was an otherwise less-than-stellar group.
Claire’s voice was popular among audiences. She finished as ninth most popular female vocalist in Billboard magazine’s 1941 poll and twelfth in 1942. She left Dunham in 1944 and worked briefly with Boyd Raeburn before beginning a successful solo career singing in nightclubs, on radio and television, and on the stage. She occasionally filled in for orchestras in need of a temporary female vocalist, including Lawrence Welk’s band in 1944, when Janie Walton went on vacation, and Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra in late 1946. She recorded with Dorsey’s band in early 1946 and solo that same year on the World Wide and Enterprise labels. She also recorded on the MGM label in 1950.
In 1947, Claire landed the role of Sharon McLonergan in the Broadway production of Finian’s Rainbow, called in at the last minute to replace the ailing Ella Logan, whose understudy had been dismissed. She ended up staying in the role for eighteen months.
As the 1950s rolled around, Claire began billing herself as both a singer and a comedienne. She played heavily on the nightclub circuit and in 1950 also began appearing regularly on television’s The Paul Winchell Show. She made guest appearances on many other television programs as well. She continued performing into the 1970s, mainly in nightclubs, also appearing in two films, as a singing prostitute in Cat Ballou (1965) and in the low budget 1970 Lenny Bruce biopic Dirtymouth. Dorothy Claire passed away in 1982, age 62.