Helen O'Connell

Photo of Helen O'Connell
  • Born

    May 23, 1920
    Lima, Ohio
  • Died

    September 9, 1993 (age 73)
    San Diego, California
  • Orchestras

    Jimmy Dorsey
    Larry Funk

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 February 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. She de­buted with Dorsey on February 20th.

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 February 1943 and briefly started a solo ca­reer be­fore re­tir­ing to get mar­ried in October of that year. She came out of re­tire­ment 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 NBCs 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.

Music

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  • Tangerine
    Jimmy Dorsey (Bob Eberly, Helen O'Connell), Decca (1941)
  • Man, That's Groovy
    Jimmy Dorsey (Helen O'Connell), Decca (1941)
  • Surrey with the Fringe on the Top
    Bing Crosby and Helen O'Connell, Radio (1943)

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

Films

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  • Screenshot
    "Rubber Dolly"
    Jimmy Dorsey (Helen O'Connell)
    (1940)
  • Screenshot
    "Tangerine"
    Jimmy Dorsey (Bob Eberly, Helen O'Connell)
    from the film The Fleet’s In, Paramount (1942)
  • Screenshot
    "Green Eyes"
    Jimmy Dorsey (Bob Eberly, Helen O'Connell)
    from the film The Fabulous Dorseys, United Artists (1947)

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Sources

  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. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 5 Jan. 2016.
  4. “Helen O'Connell.” IMDb. Accessed 29 Jul. 2016.
  5. “Dorsey Chirper.” Down Beat Mar. 1939: 2.
  6. “Advertisement.” Billboard 30 Sep. 1939: 83.
  7. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  8. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand, New York.” Billboard 2 Jan. 1943: 74.
  9. “Chirper O'Connell to Jolson.” Billboard 6 Mar. 1943: 6.
  10. “Marriages.” Billboard 30 Oct. 1943: 56.
  11. “Big Dough Skirts the Skirts.” Billboard 18 Dec. 1943: 18.
  12. “Capitol Snares Helen O'Connell.” Billboard 30 Sep. 1950: 12.
  13. “Big Band Vocalist Helen O'Connell Dies.” Observer-Reporter [Washington County, PA] 11 Sep. 1993: A11.