Helen Forrest

aka Bonnie Blue

Photo of Helen Forrest

One of the most popular female vocalists of the swing era, Helen Forrest worked with three top bands. Born to Russian Jewish immigrants, accounts of Forrest’s early life come mostly from her autobiography, published in 1982. The youngest of four children and the only girl, her father died while she was an infant. Her mother later moved the family to New York and remarried. According to Forrest, her mother and step-father used their house as a brothel while the children were at school, and as she got older her step-father tried to accost her. After threatening him with a knife when she was fourteen, she went to live with her piano teacher, who encouraged her to sing.

In the early 1930s, one of Forrest’s brothers, Ed, formed his own band, and she moved back to Atlantic City to work as his vocalist during the summer of 1931. Deciding to pursue a career as a singer, she returned to New York and began to visit publishers and audition for radio shows. During one audition, a musician convinced her that her last name, Fogel, was “too Jewish,” and she changed it to Forrest. She landed her first professional job in 1934, singing commercials on radio station WNEW, often under pseudonyms. She later landed a network spot on the Blue Velvet program for CBS, billed under the name Bonnie Blue. While at CBS, she worked with popular network orchestra leader Mark Warnow, older brother of Raymond Scott.

When Ed, whose band was playing in Washington, D.C., called and told her there was a vocalist spot open at that city’s Madrillon night club, a top spot frequented by politicians, Forrest auditioned and won the job. There she quickly began to gain a reputation as a singer, catching the ear of bandleader Artie Shaw, who offered her the chance to join his orchestra in 1938. Shaw’s singer at that time was Billie Holiday, which presented problems at some venues. Shaw needed a white female vocalist as well. Shaw also couldn’t use Holiday for recordings due to her being under contract with a different label than the band. Forrest refused at first due to her romantic involvement with the club’s drummer, Al Spieldock. The couple decided to marry, however, and she signed with Shaw, making her first recordings with the band in November 1938. Holiday, who had grown increasingly frustrated working for Shaw, left the band that same month, leaving Forrest the sole female vocalist.

When Shaw got fed up with the music business and disbanded in November 1939, saxophonist Georgie Auld took over the band, turning it into a cooperative effort. Forrest, however, did not remain. Instead she joined Benny Goodman in December, with Goodman vocalist Kay Foster trading places and joining Auld in what many at the time believed to be a backroom deal. While Forrest had never made much of a splash with Shaw, mostly due to the chaotic nature of the band during that period, with Goodman her popularity soared. Singing on a number of Goodman sides and appearing with the orchestra on radio, both critics and the public began to notice. She placed eighth in Billboard’s 1940 college poll for best female band vocalist and third in 1941. She placed fifth in Down Beat magazine’s 1939 poll for best female vocalist, fourth in 1940, and second in 1941.[1]

In mid-1940, Forrest 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.

When Goodman temporarily disbanded in July 1940 due to medical issues, he kept Forrest on salary, and she became part of his new outfit that August. She finally parted with Goodman in August 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 planned to go solo but instead joined Harry James in October, 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. Forrest appeared in four films with the band, singing her biggest hit, “I Had the Craziest Dream,” in Springtime in the Rockies. She earned fourth place in Billboard’s 1942 poll and first in 1943. She placed first for female vocalist in Down Beat’s 1942 poll and third in 1943.[2]

Post-Band Years

Forrest left James in late 1943 to pursue a solo career. She gave 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.[3] She made her theater debut at New York’s Roxy a week later. Her breakout as a single attracted much attention from the press, with Forrest appearing on the covers of both Down Beat’s January 15, 1944, issue and Billboard’s February 5, 1944, issue. At the same, her husband filed for divorce, the couple having separated soon after she had joined James. Gossip columns had often linked her and James romantically, and her love life continued to be a regular topic of discussion for the next few years.

In August 1944, bandleader Bob Chester, with whom she was touring theaters on the same bill, offered Forrest a fifty percent guarantee on net profits to join his band, the top offer made to any vocalist thus far, which she declined. In September, she joined Dick Haymes on the NBC radio program Everything for the Boys. She and Haymes had briefly worked together and became close friends during her time with James. They also shared the same agent, Bill Burton. Their friendship was so close that she often covered for Haymes, a notorious womanizer, when he was cheating on his wife, Joanna Dru, telling her that they were working together when he was actually out with another woman. Forrest and Haymes recorded together and toured with the U.S.O. When she left the show in 1947, NBC retitled it The Dick Haymes Show.

As a recording artist, Forrest found continued success. She placed several songs in the Top Ten for Decca from 1944 to 1946. In 1946, she was the third best selling female recording artist of the year. In 1947, she signed with the MGM label. Forrest placed second in Down Beat’s 1944 poll for best girl singer not in a band. Her popularity began to decline in the late 1940s however. She placed fifth in Down Beat’s poll in 1945, eleventh in 1946, and fourteenth in 1947. Forrest sang in the 1945 Bob Cummings and Lizabeth Scott film You Came Along, her last motion picture, for which she dyed her hair blonde.

In 1947, Forrest married aspiring actor Paul Hogan, and her career slowed down. She continued to sing, but by the early 1950s she had become much less active. Many people assumed she had retired. After separating from Hogan, she came out of her semi-retirement in spring 1954 to headline at the Casa Vegas in Long Beach, this time working with a trio rather than a big band. She recorded on the Derby label in 1953, Bell in 1954, and for Capitol in the mid-1950s. In 1956, she sued RCA for $650,000 over unauthorized use of her voice in an Artie Shaw reissue package.

Forrest married Charlie Feinman in 1959. The couple had a son the following year, but the marriage was dissolved in 1961. She made her first television appearance in 1950 and her last in 1980. She continued to sing, often in big band nostalgia programs, until the early 1990s, when arthritis forced her to retire. Helen Forrest passed away from heart failure in 1999, age 82.


  1. Down Beat’s early polls made no distinction between band singers and solo artists. ↩︎

  2. Down Beat critic George Frazier disliked Forrest and constantly panned her. In the July 7, 1941, issue, a reader politely questioned Frazier’s judgement, saying he’d given Forrest a listen on record and on the radio and thought she was terrific. The letter was signed Sam Fogel, who just happened to be one of Helen’s brothers. Whether Down Beat realized the connection or not is unknown. It’s an amusing aside either way. ↩︎

  3. Interestingly, Forrest never signed a contract with James. Neither of them felt it was necessary. ↩︎


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  • They Say
    Artie Shaw (Helen Forrest), Bluebird (1938)
  • It Took a Million Years
    Artie Shaw (Helen Forrest), Bluebird (1938)
  • Comes Love
    Artie Shaw (Helen Forrest), Bluebird (1939)
  • Any Old Time
    Artie Shaw (Helen Forrest), Bluebird (1939)
  • Let's All Sing Together
    Benny Goodman (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1939)
  • Busy as a Bee (I'm Buzz, Buzz, Buzzin')
    Benny Goodman (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1939)
  • A Ghost of a Chance
    Lionel Hampton (Helen Forrest), RCA Victor (1940)
  • I'd Be Lost Without You
    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)
  • Bewitched
    Benny Goodman (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1941)
  • I Don't Want to Walk Without You
    Harry James (Helen Forrest), Columbia (1941)
  • The Devil Sat Down and Cried
    Harry James (Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest), Columbia (1941)
  • But Not for Me
    Harry James (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)
  • Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry
    Helen Forrest, Decca (1944)
  • It Had to Be You
    Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest, Decca (1944)
  • All the Things You Are
    Helen Forrest, Decca (1945)
  • Everybody Knew But Me
    Helen Forrest with Les Paul and His Trio, Decca (1945)
  • I'll Buy That Dream
    Helen Forrest and Dick Haymes, Decca (1945)
  • Strange As It Seems
    Helen Forrest, Decca (1945)
  • Some Sunday Morning
    Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest, Decca (1945)
  • I Like Mike
    Helen Forrest with The Chickadees, Decca (1946)
  • Something Old, Something New
    Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest, Decca (1946)
  • Linger in My Arms a Little Longer, Baby
    Helen Forrest with The Chickadees, Decca (1946)
  • Why Does It Get So Late So Early?
    Dick Haymes and Helen Forrest, Decca (1946)
  • You Were Meant for Me
    Helen Forrest, MGM (1947)
  • Baby, Come Home
    Helen Forrest, MGM (1947)
  • Possibilities
    Helen Forrest, MGM (1949)
  • Lover's Gold
    Helen Forrest, MGM (1949)
  • I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
    Helen Forrest, MGM (1950)
  • It Was So Good While It Lasted
    Helen Forrest, MGM (1950)
  • Answer Me My Love
    Helen Forrest, Bell (1954)

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

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  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Libby, Bill and Helen Forrest. I Had the Craziest Dream. 1st ed. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1982.
  3. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  4. Prigozy, Ruth. The Life of Dick Haymes: No More Little White Lies. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006.
  5. Becker, R. Whitney. “Sure, Artie's Band Is Great, But Give His Men Their Share of Credit.” Down Beat Feb. 1939: 4.
  6. “The Reviewing Stand: Artie Shaw.” Billboard 9 Sep. 1939: 13.
  7. “Shaw Retracts Duress Charges In Suit Brought by Oberstein.” Billboard 9 Dec. 1939: 11.
  8. “Tony Pastor Lining Up His Outfit.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1939: 2.
  9. “Contest Results: Fem Chirpers.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1940: 13.
  10. Hampton, Lionel. “Swing.” The Afro-American 27 Jul. 1940: 13.
  11. Dexter, Dave Jr. “Artie Shaw Grabs Goodman's Men.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1940: 1.
  12. “Final Poll Results: Girl Singers.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1941: 13.
  13. “99 Pounds of Vocal Dynamite.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1941: 13.
  14. Fogel, Sam. “Pans Frazier for Panning Helen Forrest.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1941: 11.
  15. Hampton, Lionel. “Swing.” The Afro-American 22 Jul. 1941: 9.
  16. “Fond Farewells.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1941: 1.
  17. “Helen Forrest Getting Set.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1941: 9.
  18. “Forrest Hints Hope To James.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1941: 7.
  19. “Poll Tabulations: Fem Chirps.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1942: 22.
  20. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  21. “Poll Results: Female Vocalists.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1943: 14.
  22. “Students Select Winners.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  23. “Singing Wives Discuss Wedlock.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1943: 9.
  24. “Helen Forrest to Join Burton Warbling Agency.” Billboard 18 Sep. 1943: 15.
  25. “Bill Burton Signs Up Helen Forrest.” Billboard 30 Oct. 1943: 15.
  26. “Helen Forrest to Solo About Dec. 1.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1943: 1.
  27. “Talents and Tunes on Music Machines.” Billboard 27 Nov. 1943: 100.
  28. “Forrest Bows As Single Act.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1943: 2.
  29. “List of Winners.” The Billboard 1943 Music Year Book New York: Billboard, 1943. 138.
  30. “1943 Band Poll Winners: Girl Singers.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1944: 13.
  31. “Helen Forrest On the Cover.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1944: 1.
  32. “Marital Trouble Rocks Musikers.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1944: 15.
  33. Cover. Billboard 5 Feb. 1944: 1.
  34. “Helen Forrest.” Billboard 5 Feb. 1944: 4.
  35. “Five-Way Pick-Up.” Billboard 22 Jul. 1944: 13.
  36. “Forrest's 50% Chirp Deal?” Billboard 26 Aug. 1944: 13.
  37. “Helen Forrest On Radio Show.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1944: 4.
  38. “Poll Results: Girl Singer (Not Band).” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1944: 13.
  39. Emge, Charles. “On the Beat in Hollywood.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1945: 7.
  40. “Haymes Forrest Set For Roxy Run.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1945: 1.
  41. “Poll Results: Girl Singer (Not Band).” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1946: 16.
  42. “Poll Results: Girl Singer (Not Band).” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1947: 20.
  43. “1946 Music Disk Toppers.” Billboard 4 Jan. 1947: 3.
  44. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 29 Mar. 1947: 31.
  45. “Helen Forrest MGM Firsts.” Down Beat 9 Apr. 1947: 8.
  46. “Haymes, Forrest On Summer Tour.” Down Beat 23 Apr. 1947: 3.
  47. “Forrest Opens.” Down Beat 22 Oct. 1947: 1.
  48. “Poll Results: Girl Singer (Not With Band).” Down Beat 31 Dec. 1947: 12.
  49. “Shaw Bouquet.” Down Beat 29 Jun. 1951: 3.
  50. “Derby Signs Forrest.” Down Beat 11 Mar. 1953: 5.
  51. “Today's Bands Listless: Helen Forrest.” Down Beat 5 May 1954: 5.
  52. “RCA Sued By Helen Forrest.” Down Beat 18 Apr. 1956: 41.
  53. Sklar, Debbie L. “Helen Forrest's Voice Earned Spot in History.” The Sunday Courier [Prescott, AZ] 25 Jan. 1995: 6A.
  54. “Helen Forrest, Sang with Big Bands.” Bangor Daily News 13 Jul. 1999: B6.