Born and raised in northwest Ohio, singer Helen O’Connell began her professional career touring with Jimmy Richards’ nine-piece orchestra before eventually landing a steady job on local radio in St. Louis. She later left her radio job to sing with Larry Funk and his Band of a Thousand Melodies. Her big break came during a stay in New York in 1939 when Jimmy Dorsey heard her sing. Having just gotten rid of Ella Mae Morse, Dorsey was in need of a female vocalist, and Helen turned out to be a perfect match.
Though O’Connell had limited vocal range, she became popular with the public and went on to record several big hits with Dorsey, including “Green Eyes” and “All of Me.” Most famous are her duets with Bob Eberly, in whom she also had romantic interest. She was voted best female vocalist in a 1940 Metronome poll and won Billboard magazine’s 1942 college poll for best female band vocalist, having placed second in 1941 and fourth in 1940.
O’Connell left Dorsey’s orchestra in early 1943 and briefly started a solo career before retiring to get married in October of that year. She came out of retirement briefly in 1947 to appear in the fantastical Dorsey Brothers biopic The Fabulous Dorseys but did not return fully to the music world until 1950, when she began a successful solo career.
She appeared regularly on television during the 1950s, including a stint as co-host of NBC’s Today Show. She also starred in her own television program and was a featured performer on Russ Morgan’s show. For a while she toured with Kay Starr, Rosemary Clooney and Rose Marie as Four Girls Four. She remained active in the music business up until her death from cancer in 1993, age 73.