Frances Wayne

Photo of Frances Wayne

Vocalist Frances Wayne sang with several bands in the early 1940s but is best remembered today for her work with Woody Herman. In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, Wayne managed a successful solo career, often singing with groups led by husband Neal Hefti. She stuck close to the jazz world all throughout her career. As such, she never managed a popular hit, and modern audiences have mostly forgotten her. Though she was very well respected as a jazz singer, she divided her focus between performing and raising a family which put her at a disadvantage when building a long-term career. She retired from show business in 1958 to devote time to raising her children.

The daughter of Italian immigrants, Wayne was born in Boston and grew up in nearby Somerville, where her father ran his own grocery store. Not much is known about Wayne’s early life. She was unemployed in April 1940, and at some point before early 1942 she moved to New York and began to make a name for herself as a singer. She spent time with Sam Donahue’s band before joining Jerry Wald’s new orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom in early March 1942, staying only a few days with Wald before jumping to Nick Jerret’s six-piece combo at Kelly’s Stables when it debuted in the city that same month.[1] At the end of March, Charlie Barnet signed her for a reported salary of $225 a week, an astronomical sum for a vocalist, especially one who had little experience. She stayed with Barnet until September, 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. She joined Woody Herman in November 1943 at a point when the band was at the height of its musical output. She quickly became popular with critics and audiences alike, vocalizing on some of Herman’s most memorable numbers. She became particularly noted for her vocals on the orchestra’s 1945 hit “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe,” a very difficult song for singers. Down Beat magazine featured Wayne on the cover of their June 15, 1945, issue.

Wayne’s vocal talents put her in high demand during this period. In July 1945, Herman’s then current label, Decca, agreed to lend Wayne to Victor for one disk so that she could record with Duke Ellington. In September, Columbia, where Herman had moved, 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.

In late 1945, Herman accidentally left Wayne behind when the band traveled from an engagement at the Norfolk naval base to Camp Lee, both in Virginia. The musicians traveled in two different airplanes, and each group thought Wayne was with the other. An extra plane had to be commandeered to get her to Camp Lee in time for her first song.

Post-Band Career

All throughout Wayne’s time with Herman, rumors constantly flew that she would leave the band for a solo career. In November 1945, she married Herman trumpet player Neal Hefti, and when Hefti quit the band in January 1946 she departed soon after, reportedly over a disagreement on salary. She also wanted to remain with her husband in New York when the band went west.[2]

Hitting the nightclub circuit again, 1947 proved to be Wayne’s year when she wowed critics and impressed audiences with improved vocal performance and showmanship. In May, she became vocalist on the California Melodies radio program, and in June she signed a one-year deal with the Exclusive label, where she was backed by the orchestras of Buddy Baker, Les Robinson, and Hefti. She also appeared with Shorty Sherock’s band that year in their self-titled musical short.

In February 1947, Down Beat published an article by Wayne in which she called out bandleaders who criticized singers for struggling to keep up with increasingly intricate arrangements:

Since when should singers, what with trying to look good, have to keep their fingers crossed in the hopes that they’ll catch ungodly modulations, stay in pitch with backgrounds that don’t show them any respect, and then heave a sigh of relief upon finding that they ended together with the band! That naturally makes for tenseness, and strained singing produces flat notes…

Beware of the bandleader who says “Maybe the singer wasn’t good, but did you hear that background?”

In 1948, Wayne and Hefti settled in Hollywood, where she made “several television films” and sang with Hefti’s combo at local clubs. She appeared on the cover of Down Beat a second time on December 1, 1948.

Wayne retired from singing in 1949 to give birth to her first child. She didn’t remain completely inactive however. In early 1950, Hefti joined a small group put together by Barnet to tour the West Coast. Wayne was initially announced as vocalist but pulled out at the last minute, causing an uproar among club owners who had to refund tickets because Wayne had been advertised. That spring, she spent five weeks in her hometown of Boston appearing at a night club and on local television with her own fifteen-minute program. Wayne and Hefti moved back to the East Coast at some point in the early 1950s.

Wayne fully came out of retirement in April 1951 to record on the London label. In July of that year, she 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. Wayne signed a separate contract with Coral in late 1951 to record solo under her own name.

In early 1952, Hefti put together a touring band with Wayne as vocalist. When it hit the road in May, the orchestra impressed critics, who called it the most exciting new group on the East Coast. Hefti temporarily disbanded at the end of the year. When he reorganized in early January 1953, Wayne didn’t rejoin. She announced intentions to work as a single but instead ended up retiring again to have her second child.

Wayne came out of retirement in November 1955 to sing with Hefti’s new band at Birdland. At the time, she was undecided on her future. She didn’t intend to travel with the group and wasn’t sure she would record again. She eventually went back on the nightclub circuit before rejoining her husband as vocalist with his new jazz combo in August 1956. In early 1957, she and Hefti moved to New York, where she began appearing as a solo act on the jazz and supper club circuit. Wayne recorded solo on Epic in 1956, with Hefti providing backing, and on Atlantic and Brunswick in 1957. She retired again in 1958 to take care of their two children.

In 1960, the couple moved to California. Wayne 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, only 58 years of age.[3]


  1. Jerret was Wayne’s brother, one year older than her. ↩︎

  2. Hefti is best remembered by modern audiences as the composer of the Batman theme song from the 1960s television program. ↩︎

  3. Wayne’s real first name is variously given as Chiarina, Chianaro, or Clara. Clara seems to have been the Americanized name she often used when younger. ↩︎


  1. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 12 Nov. 2015.
  2. “Nick Jerret Band Opens in N.Y.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1942: 1.
  3. “On the Stand: Jerry Wald.” Billboard 21 Mar. 1942: 24.
  4. “On the Stand: Nick Jerret.” Billboard 4 Apr. 1942: 21.
  5. “Climbing Fast!” Billboard 4 Apr. 1942: 21.
  6. “Buffalo Grabs Sock 20G, Century 10G.” Billboard 23 May 1942: 18.
  7. “Notes between the Notes.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1942: 17.
  8. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 19 Sep. 1942: 23.
  9. “Nita Bradley Joins Barnet.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1942: 16.
  10. “Possibilities.” Billboard 10 Oct. 1942: 5.
  11. “Nick Jerret Opens as Trio.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1943: 11.
  12. “Frances Wayne Chirps for Herd.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1943: 1.
  13. “Vaudeville Reviews.” Billboard 20 Nov. 1943: 20.
  14. “Herd Honey.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1943: 3.
  15. Barnet, Nita. “Soldier Sneers Spoil Visits to Service Camps.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1944: 17.
  16. “Popular Record Reviews.” Billboard 10 Jun. 1944: 19.
  17. “Frances Wayne On The Cover.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1945: 1.
  18. “Frances Wayne Lend-Leased to Duke for Disk.” Billboard 28 Jul. 1945: 19.
  19. No Title. Billboard 8 Sep. 1945: 18.
  20. “Frances Wayne Inks at Musicraft.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1945: 2.
  21. “Two for One.” Billboard 6 Oct. 1945: 23.
  22. “Wayne Waxes With Burns Ork.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1945: 12.
  23. “Red Faces.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1945: 5.
  24. “Marriages.” Billboard 17 Nov. 1945: 43.
  25. “Wayne Walk-Out Only Herd Change.” Billboard 9 Feb. 1946: 34.
  26. “Fran Wayne Out of Herd.” Down Beat 11 Feb. 1946: 1.
  27. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 25 Mar. 1946: 1.
  28. “Night Club Reviews: Blue Angel, New York.” Billboard 13 Jul. 1946: 40.
  29. Hefti, Frances Wayne. “Super-Scores A Foul Ball To Band Vocalists.” Down Beat 26 Feb. 1947: 3.
  30. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 7 May 1947: 5.
  31. “Music as Written.” Billboard 7 Jun. 1947: 35.
  32. “Music as Written.” Billboard 12 Jul. 1947: 36.
  33. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 30 Aug. 1947: 32.
  34. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 20 Sep. 1947: 41.
  35. Haynes, Don C. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 5 Nov. 1947: 4.
  36. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 8 Nov. 1947: 32.
  37. “Record Reviews.” Down Beat 28 Jan. 1948: 15.
  38. “Music as Written.” Billboard 21 Feb. 1948: 35.
  39. “Hefti-Wayne Package Follows Johnny White.” Down Beat 25 Feb. 1948: 18.
  40. Ronan, Eddie. “On the Sunset Vine.” Down Beat 22 Sep. 1948: 9.
  41. “Frances Wayne On The Cover.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1948: 1.
  42. “New Numbers.” Down Beat 23 Sep. 1949: 10.
  43. “Charlie Barnet Returns Again.” Down Beat 10 Mar. 1950: 1.
  44. No Title. Down Beat 19 May 1950: 1.
  45. “Hassels Follow Barnet West Coast Bookings.” Down Beat 16 Jun. 1950: 5.
  46. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1950: 5.
  47. “Frances Wayne Returns To Wax.” Down Beat 4 May 1951: 3.
  48. “Coral Guns at Hefti Promotion.” Billboard 4 Aug. 1951: 12.
  49. “Music as Written.” Billboard 15 Sep. 1951: 18.
  50. “Neal Hefti To Organize Band For Road Work.” Down Beat 11 Jan. 1952: 1.
  51. “Neal Hefti Ork Hits The Road May 15.” Down Beat 18 Apr. 1952: 2.
  52. Webman, Hal. “Heftis' Band Full Of Surprises.” Down Beat 18 Jun. 1952: 8.
  53. “Music Popularity Charts.” Billboard 6 Sep. 1952: 62.
  54. “Wayne, Hefti In Part-Time Split.” Down Beat 3 Dec. 1952: 3.
  55. “Hefti Re-Forms Soon; Frances To Do A Single.” Down Beat 28 Jan. 1953: 21.
  56. “Album and LP Reviews.” Billboard 27 Jun. 1953: 40.
  57. “Neal Hefti Band at Hershey Saturday.” Gettysburg Times [Gettysburg, Pennsylvania] 17 Jul. 1953.
  58. “Frances Wayne In Birdland Comeback.” Down Beat 19 Oct. 1955: 5.
  59. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 28 Dec. 1955: 5.
  60. Kilgallen, Dorothy. “The Voice of Broadway” Kentucky New Era [Hopkinsville, Kentucky] 10 Aug. 1956: 4.
  61. Kilgallen, Dorothy. “The Voice of Broadway” Daytona Beach Morning Journal 6 Dec. 1956: 4.
  62. “Packaging Parlays Pay Off.” Billboard 28 Jul. 1956: 40.
  63. “Epic Pacts New Talent in Singles Field.” Billboard 18 Aug. 1956: 37.
  64. “Heftis Front Four, Abandon Big Band.” Down Beat 19 Sep. 1956: 9.
  65. “Frances Wayne Solo Act.” Down Beat 23 Jan. 1957: 42.
  66. “Reviews and Ratings of New Jazz Albums.” Billboard 29 Apr. 1957: 37.
  67. “Music in Review.” Down Beat 25 Jul. 1957: 23.
  68. “Label Extends Fall LP Deal.” Billboard 9 Sep. 1957: 15.
  69. “Music in Review.” Down Beat 14 Nov. 1957: 30.
  70. “Music As Written.” Billboard 31 Oct. 1960: 63.
  71. “Accolading Runs Slick as Paint.” Billboard 17 Apr. 1961: 4.
  72. “Hefti Named A&R Head at Reprise.” Down Beat 28 Sep. 1961: 11.
  73. Feather, Leonard. “...and All That Jazz.” The Milwaukee Journal 25 Jun. 1966: 2.
  74. Feather, Leonard. “After films, concerts are new Hefti bag.” The Milwaukee Journal 13 Jan. 1975: 3.
  75. O'Brian, Jack. “Voice of Broadway.” Sarasota Journal [Sarasota, Florida] 7 Mar. 1978:
  76. “Deaths.” Billboard 18 Feb. 1978: 74.
  77. “Neal Hefti Biography.” Billboard n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.
  78. “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch ( : Fri Mar 08 07:02:16 UTC 2024), Entry for Antonio Bertocci and Rose Bertocci, 1920.
  79. “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch ( : Fri Mar 08 07:37:44 UTC 2024), Entry for Antonio Bertocci and Rosina Bertocci, 1930.
  80. “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch ( : Sat Mar 09 11:40:13 UTC 2024), Entry for Antonio Bertocci and Rose Bertocci, 1940.
  81. “United States Census, 1950,” FamilySearch ( : Tue Mar 19 18:01:43 UTC 2024), Entry for Louis Bertocci and Neal Hefti, 10 April 1950.