Little Rock, Arkansas, native Dottie Reid sang with more bands than you could shake a stick at, rarely staying long in any. At first a brunette and then a blonde, Reid’s voice was once described by a reviewer as a mix of Anita O’Day with Jo Stafford.
Reid joined Gray Gordon’s newly reorganized orchestra on October 25, 1941, in Chicago. A month later she arrived in New York with only $30 in her pocket, looking for work. She quickly landed a singing job with the alternating house bands at the Stork Club, a job which lasted only one day. Bandleader Bob Allen, in need of a female vocalist for his new orchestra, received a tip about Reid from one of Down Beat magazine’s New York staff, and he went to listen. She joined his band the next day at the Rosemont in Brooklyn. Allen’s band was broadcast on NBC, giving Reid a radio outlet.
By May 1942, Reid had moved on to Muggsy Spanier’s orchestra, taking over from Edythe Harper, who left to have a baby. With Spanier she made her first recording. In July, Reid was with Vido Musso’s band in the Midwest. Her stay was only temporary, however, as she preferred doing club work in New York. She left in August for Bob Astor’s orchestra, replacing Dell Parker. By December, she was with Barney Rapp.
By the first of 1943, Reid had joined Jack Teagarden’s band, where she settled longer than usual and might have stayed even longer had it not been for Teagarden. Tired of losing male vocalists to the draft, he decided to forego having a boy singer and use two females instead, alternating between them. To that end, he signed Phyllis Lane, who joined the band mid-July at the Orpheum in Los Angeles. Reid was less than thrilled with the arrangement, and she quit the band at the end of its stay at the theater, telling journalists that the experiment “didn’t work out very well.”
On her own now, Reid remained in California, joining Dave Barbour’s new five-piece combo when it opened at George Grasel’s club in North Hollywood in mid-August. Barbour’s wife, vocalist Peggy Lee, was pregnant at the time and had no plans to perform until after she’d given birth. In late September, Reid teamed up with female boogie-woogie pianist Allein Lair at the Chi Chi in Palm Springs. The pair proved popular with the cocktail lounge crowd, and they were held over.
Reid was back on the bandstand by February 1944 with Robin Mohr’s orchestra. In July she was with Herbie Fields, but by October she was singing for Johnny Richards, with whom she recorded. A review at the time said Reid looked bored in Richards’ band and had bad stage manners. In April 1945, she joined George Paxton’s outfit, though she was dropped after less than a month. She then joined Randy Brooks in early June but stayed only a few days, leaving to tour with Benny Goodman for seven weeks. She made two recordings with the King of Swing.
After leaving Goodman, Reid sang solo at Kelly’s Stable in New York, where she stayed for several months. By February 1946, she had joined Buddy Rich’s band, where she also recorded. She remained with Rich until September when she returned to Kelly’s Stable, staying there until November. That month, she temped in Dean Hudson’s band at Roseland, trading jobs with singer Naomi Wright late that month, who had been performing in Miami. Reid stayed in Miami until late February 1947 when she returned to club work in New York.
In April, Reid sang for Chubby Jackson’s sextet at the bassist’s Esquire Club in Valley Stream on Long Island. Jackson, self-styled as the Happy Monster, favored wild, experimental jazz with advanced harmony, key changes and tempo switches. When patrons asked him to play something danceable or made sarcastic remarks about his decidedly undanceable rhythms, Jackson would often angrily exclaim, “This music is made for listening, not dancing.” Reid got a charge out of singing to Jackson’s group, never knowing what the musicians were going to do next to try and hang her up. She considered it great training.
On November 25, 1947, while touring with Spanier’s six-piece band, Reid had the unfortunate distinction of both opening and closing on the same night at the Blue Note in Chicago. Rumors flew as to the cause, with some saying she had developed tonsillitis, others saying Spanier had been difficult, and still others claiming that the club’s management hadn’t liked her and had fired her. The truth was that Reid, due to rehearsal difficulties prior to her arrival, didn’t sing with Spanier that night, instead only singing two songs accompanied by a pianist. In addition, Pat Flaherty, the vocalist from the other act on the bill, Herbie Fields’s combo, was on notice, and Fields indicated that she would only work for two weeks if at all. Club management, seeing that one woman wasn’t singing and the other only managed two songs, decided that paying the 20 percent federal tax levied on clubs that employed vocalists wasn’t worth it and asked Reid to leave. She returned to New York.
Other than a short stint with Buddy Morrow’s band in mid-1948, Reid stayed on the night club circuit throughout the rest of the 1940s and into the mid-1950s. On September 8, 1949, she married Sammy Kaye trombonist Mervyn Gold in New York. In September 1951, she appeared on television, taking over Nancy Reed’s spot on the Ted Steele show on WPIX in New York for four weeks. Reid returned to the bandstand in December 1956 when Goodman picked her as vocalist for his Far East tour. By May she had joined the Dorsey orchestra. Jimmy was in the hospital at the time and passed away in June. She remained with the band, which fell under the direction of Lee Castle. She soon returned to the night club circuit, however, where she continued to perform as late as 1966. She and Gold divorced in 1967.
Down Beat was headquartered in Chicago and familiar with Reid’s work in Gordon’s band. ↩︎
Sonny Dunham had previously tried the same arrangement, which had ended just as badly as did Teagarden’s. ↩︎