A native Texan, vocalist Hazel Bruce spent most of her career singing with second-tier orchestras. In the early 1940s, she had a brief moment in the spotlight with Charlie Barnet before making her final fade into history.
Born in El Paso, Texas, to a Syrian immigrant father and a mother whose parents had been Swiss immigrants, by 1920 Bruce and her family had moved to San Antonio, where she began her singing career in the early 1930s. Raven-haired and brown-eyed, she reportedly was in high demand as a vocalist, working and traveling the country with a variety of orchestras, including those of Henry Halstead, Ralph Webster, Bernie Green, and Doc. Ross. In early 1933, she was with Don “Chief” Gonzalez, but by October she had settled in with Steve Gardner’s popular Texas-based dance orchestra. When Gardner’s band played Galveston in August 1934, Bruce remained in the city as a solo act, staying through at least December.
By September 1935, Bruce had joined Ted Jennings, whose orchestra settled in to a long run at Cincinnati’s Castle Farm later that year. She remained with Jennings through at least September 1936. In February and March 1938, she sang with Marvin Frederich’s orchestra on NBC radio. At some point after, Bruce joined Barney Rapp’s band, leaving in early 1939 for Joe Reichman’s orchestra at the Mark Hopkins hotel in San Francisco. She remained with Reichman through at least July 1939, when the band played Chicago. She then disappears from the record for two years.
Bruce resurfaced in October 1941 when she joined Charlie Barnet’s band, temporarily at first. Barnet had just lost the Quintones vocal group, whose two girl members, Barbara Canvin and Patty Morgan, had handled female vocals. Barnet intended to only use Bruce until he found a permanent girl singer, but she ended up with the job, staying with the band until late March 1942, when she left to join Layton Bailey’s Washington, D.C., hotel orchestra.
In July 1943, Bruce made a guest appearance on NBC radio. In November, she was part of a Red Cross “Hit Parade” entertainment unit, performing for troops in England. The unit billed her as the “Sophie Tucker of the Hit Parade.” The show was not associated with the popular American radio program.
Bruce married Auburn Reaves at some point before August 1946, at which time she was living in San Francisco and expecting a child. She then disappears from the record, likely having retired. She eventually settled in Buda, Texas. Hazel Bruce passed away in 1992, just four days shy of her eightieth birthday.
While with Barnet, Bruce was said to be able to dress on a bus in six seconds. ↩︎
A notice announcing Bruce joining Bailey hints that she also sang for Will Bradley, whose band was in Washington, D.C., at that time as well. If so, it would have only been as a substitute, as Lynn Gardner was Bradley’s female vocalist at the time. The same notice also states that Bruce had sang with Artie Show. If true, it would also likely be on some sort of temporary basis. ↩︎
Bruce began to lie about her age starting in 1934, when she knocked a year off her true age. By the time she had joined Barnet in 1941, she was pretending to be seven years younger than she actually was. ↩︎