Helen Forrest

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One of the most popular female vocalists of the Swing Era, Helen Forrest began her professional career in 1934 soon after her high school graduation, singing on radio station WNEW. She later landed a network spot on the Blue Velvet program for CBS, billed under the name Bonnie Blue.

Forrest later moved to Washington, D.C., with her mother and began singing at the Madrillon, a top nightclub frequented by politicians, where bandleader Artie Shaw heard her and asked her to join his orchestra. She refused at first due to her romantic involvement with the club’s drummer. The couple soon married, however, and she signed with Shaw in 1938. At that time Billie Holiday was also a Shaw vocalist. Forrest was a champion of civil rights and refused to sing in any theater or ballroom that wouldn’t also allow Holiday to perform.

When Shaw disbanded in late 1939, Forrest joined Benny Goodman, with whom she recorded many memorable numbers. In 1940, she also went into the studio with fellow Goodman member Lionel Hampton. While with Goodman, Hampton occasionally recorded for RCA Victor under his own name using hired men. The King Cole Trio and Forrest’s husband also took part in the sessions. Forrest did not sing with Hampton’s orchestra as is often stated.

Forrest parted with Goodman in 1941, though the leader refused to accept her notice and she ended up sitting out of the band for a month before her release. She then joined Harry James, where she hit her peak in popularity. James used her to her full extent, having arrangements written that featured her vocal talents. He also allowed her to sing full numbers, whereas Goodman and Shaw had used her as they did any other singer. While with Goodman, she placed eighth in Billboard’s 1940 college poll for best female band vocalist and third in 1941. With James, she earned fourth place in 1942 and first in 1943.

Post-Band Years

Forrest left James in late 1943 to pursue a solo career. She gave her notice and signed with a management agency in September but stayed with the band until they completed filming the MGM musical Bathing Beauty, setting December 1 as the date of her departure. She made her theater debut at New York’s Roxy a week later and earned the cover spot on Billboard’s February 5, 1944, issue.

As a solo artist, Forrest found continued success. She placed several songs in the Top Ten for Decca from 1944 to 1946, including a number of duets with Dick Haymes, on whose long-running radio show she appeared. In August 1944, bandleader Bob Chester offered her a fifty percent guarantee on net profits to join his band, the top offer made to any vocalist thus far, which she declined. Her streak of hits ran into the late 1940s. In 1946, she was the third best selling female recording artist of the year. In 1947, she began to record for the MGM label.

Forrest continued to sing until the early 1990s, when arthritis forced her to retire. She appeared in several films and television programs up until the early 1970s. Helen Forrest passed away from heart failure in 1999, age 82.


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  • They Say
    Artie Shaw (Helen Forrest), Bluebird (1938)
  • Comes Love
    Artie Shaw (Helen Forrest), Bluebird (1939)
  • A Ghost of a Chance
    Lionel Hampton (Helen Forrest), RCA Victor (1940)
  • Cabin in the Sky
    Benny Goodman (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1940)
  • Taking a Chance on Love
    Benny Goodman (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1940)
  • Soft As Spring
    Benny Goodman (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1941)
  • I Remember You
    Harry James (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1942)
  • Skylark
    Harry James (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1942)
  • You're Too Good for Good-for-Nothing Me
    Harry James (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1942)
  • I Had the Craziest Dream
    Harry James (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1942)
  • I Cried for You
    Harry James (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1942)
  • Time Waits for No One
    Helen Forrest, Decca (1944)
  • Long Ago and Far Away
    Helen Forrest and Dick Haymes, Decca (1944)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.


Select a video to play
  • Deep Purple
    "Deep Purple"
    Artie Shaw (Helen Forrest)
    from Symphony of Swing, Warner Brothers (1939)
  • You Made Me Love You
    "You Made Me Love You"
    Harry James (Helen Forrest)
    from Private Buckaroo, Universal (1942)
  • I Had the Craziest Dream
    "I Had the Craziest Dream"
    Harry James (Helen Forrest)
    from Springtime in the Rockies, 20th Century Fox (1942)
  • I Cried for You
    "I Cried for You"
    Harry James (Helen Forrest)
    from Bathing Beauty, MGM (1943)

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Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  3. Hampton, Lionel. “Swing.” The Afro-American 27 Jul. 1940: 13.
  4. Hampton, Lionel. “Swing.” The Afro-American 22 Jul. 1941: 9.
  5. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  6. “Students Select Winners.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  7. “Helen Forrest to Join Burton Warbling Agency.” Billboard 18 Sep. 1943: 15.
  8. “Bill Burton Signs Up Helen Forrest.” Billboard 30 Oct. 1943: 15.
  9. “Talents and Tunes on Music Machines.” Billboard 27 Nov. 1943: 100.
  10. “List of Winners.” The Billboard 1943 Music Year Book New York: Billboard, 1943. 138.
  11. Cover. Billboard 5 Feb. 1944: 1.
  12. “Helen Forrest.” Billboard 5 Feb. 1944: 4.
  13. “Five-Way Pick-Up.” Billboard 22 Jul. 1944: 13.
  14. “Forrest's 50% Chirp Deal?” Billboard 26 Aug. 1944: 13.
  15. “1946 Music Disk Toppers.” Billboard 4 Jan. 1947: 3.
  16. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 29 Mar. 1947: 31.
  17. Sklar, Debbie L. “Helen Forrest's Voice Earned Spot in History.” The Sunday Courier [Prescott, AZ] 25 Jan. 1995: 6A.
  18. “Helen Forrest, Sang with Big Bands.” Bangor Daily News 13 Jul. 1999: B6.

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