Vocalist Frances Wayne began to make a name for herself in New York during 1942. She sang with Jerry Wald’s new outfit at the Roseland Ballroom in March of that year, and the following month she appeared with Nick Jerret’s six-piece combo at Jive Canyon. In May, she joined Charlie Barnet’s orchestra, where she stayed for four months, recording with the band on one of its classic numbers, “That Old Black Magic.”
After leaving Barnet, Wayne hit the nightclub circuit for a year, sometimes singing with Jerret, before joining Woody Herman’s Herd in late 1943. It’s with Herman that she sealed her fame and is best remembered. She stayed with the band for more than two years, performing on several of their most popular numbers.
Wayne’s vocal talents put her in high demand during this period. In July 1945, Herman’s label, Decca, agreed to lend her to Victor for one disk so that she could record with Duke Ellington. And in September of that year, Columbia, who was then marketing Herman’s records, gave her permission to cut solo material on the Musicraft label. It was an unusual decision, and the first time that a singer had been allowed to record solo on another label while still remaining with their band. She cut four songs for Musicraft, backed by the orchestra of Ralph Burns.
While with Herman, Wayne met trumpet player Neal Hefti. The two fell in love and married on November 3, 1945, in Boston. Hefti quit the band in January 1946, and Wayne left the following month after a disagreement on salary. She hit the nightclub circuit again, and in June 1947 signed a one-year deal with the Exclusive label, where she recorded backed by the orchestras of Buddy Baker, Les Robinson, and Hefti. She also appeared with Shorty Sherock’s orchestra in their 1947 self-titled musical short.
In July 1951, Wayne and Hefti signed as a couple to Coral Records. The label planned to market them as a Mr. and Mrs. band, backed by studio musicians, with Wayne also recording solo. They recorded together until 1953, when Wayne decided to retire from the music business and have children. Pat O’Connor replaced her as Hefti’s vocalist.
Wayne didn’t stay retired for long however. She returned to singing in the mid-1950s and went back on the nightclub circuit before rejoining her husband as vocalist with his new jazz combo in August 1956. Wayne also recorded solo on Epic in 1956 and on Atlantic and Brunswick in 1957.
In 1960, the couple moved to California, settling in Encino, and Wayne retired from singing again to take care of their two children. Hefti and Wayne were presenters at the 1961 Grammy awards. Wayne, however, never performed again except for a comeback appearance in November 1974, after their children had grown. She planned to continue her singing career at that time, but it never materialized.
Francis Wayne died from cancer in 1978.