Ida James

Photo of Ida James
  • Born

    June 1, 1920
    Southbridge, Massachusetts
  • Died

    September 1986 (age 66)
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Orchestras

    Erskine Hawkins
    Earl Hines

Best re­mem­bered for her baby-talk singing voice, mod­ern au­di­ences seem fas­ci­nated by Ida James, much more so than her con­tem­po­raries. James was at best a mi­nor celebrity. She rarely recorded, never had a hit song, and did­n’t have a pres­ence on ra­dio. Though black jour­nal­ists of the time praised her achieve­ments, she re­mained a sec­ond-tier en­ter­tainer within her own com­mu­nity, and she failed to catch on with white au­di­ences who of­ten saw her as a nov­elty act due to her chirp­ing voice, which lim­ited her ef­fec­tive­ness on a range of ma­te­r­ial. White crit­ics some­times panned her, call­ing her act tepid.

James grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and made her pro­fes­sional start as part of the The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour on Philadelphia ra­dio sta­tion WCAU in the 1930s. She sang with Earl Hines’ band in 1937 be­fore join­ing Erskine Hawkins in 1939, where she stayed through 1942.

After leav­ing Hawkins to go solo, James spent time on the West Coast, where she played clubs around the Los Angeles area and per­formed in the The New Meet the People re­vue. She made two soundies, Who’s Been Eating My Porridge?” and Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t My Baby?” with the King Cole Trio for RCM be­fore head­ing to New York in June 1944 to be­gin an en­gage­ment at the Cafe Society. While there she made two more soundies, His Rockin’ Horse Ran Away” and Can’t See for Lookin’,” both for Filmcraft in late 1944.

In early 1945, James ap­peared on Broadway twice, in the Olsen and Johnson re­vue Laffing Room Only and in the all-black mu­si­cal Memphis Bound. Neither show lasted long. In late 1945, she headed to the South Pacific with her own USO unit.

Back in the states by mid-1946, James hit the the­ater and night club cir­cuit be­fore land­ing a long res­i­dence at the Savannah Club in New York’s Greenwich Village from late-1947 to mid-1948. She re­leased two songs on Decca with the Ellis Larkins Trio in mid-1946 and signed with the Manor la­bel in late December 1947, mak­ing four sides just be­fore the record­ing ban of 1948 was due to be­gin. She also ap­peared on the Adventures in Jazz tele­vi­sion pro­gram in 1949.

James made only a few film ap­pear­ances, the first in the 1939 all-black hor­ror film The Devil’s Daughter, widely con­sid­ered one of the worst films ever made, and later in Republic’s 1944 sec­ond-tier mu­si­cal Trocadero, where she per­formed her sig­na­ture tune Shoo Shoo Baby.” In 1947, she starred as Cab Calloway’s man­ager in the Calloway ve­hi­cle Hi De Ho.

In January 1950, James opened on Broadway in an­other short-lived pro­duc­tion, the so­cial jus­tice drama How Long Till Summer? As the 1950s rolled around, she turned to­wards rhythm and blues, record­ing two sides on Columbia in 1951 and sign­ing with the new Nickelodeon la­bel in 1953. She con­tin­ued per­form­ing through the mid-1950s but by that time had drifted into ob­scu­rity and even­tu­ally left show busi­ness.


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  • Jumpin' in a Julep Joint
    Erskine Hawkins (Ida James), Bluebird (1941)
  • Knock Me a Kiss
    Erskine Hawkins (Ida James), Bluebird (1942)

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  • Screenshot
    "Is You Is, or Is You Ain't My Baby?"
    Nat King Cole Trio and Ida James
    RCM (1944)
  • Screenshot
    "Shoo Shoo Baby"
    Bob Chester (Ida James)
    from Trocadero, Republic (1944)

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  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 13 Aug. 2016.
  3. “Phil Spitalny.” IMDb. Accessed 13 Aug. 2016.
  4. Young, Wilbur. “Thin 'n' That.” The Afro-American [Baltimore, MD] 20 Mar. 1937: 12.
  5. Matthews, Ralph. “Looking at the Stars.” Washington Afro-American 15 Apr. 1939: 10.
  6. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Los Angeles.” Billboard 3 Jan. 1942: 25.
  7. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Minneapolis.” Billboard 24 Jan. 1942: 22.
  8. “On the Air: Erskine Hawkins.” Billboard 28 Mar. 1942: 14.
  9. “Hawkins Please.” The Afro-American [Baltimore, MD] 18 Jul. 1942: 10.
  10. “On the Records: Erskine Hawkins.” Billboard 8 Aug. 1942: 68.
  11. “In Short.” Billboard 26 Jun. 1943: 16.
  12. “Out-of-Town Opening.” Billboard 14 Aug. 1943: 19.
  13. “Move Machine Reviews.” Billboard 22 Apr. 1944: 65.
  14. “In Short.” Billboard 27 May 1944: 23.
  15. “In Short.” Billboard 24 Jun. 1944: 22.
  16. “Follow-Up Reviews.” Billboard 1 Jul. 1944: 27.
  17. “Move Machine Reviews.” Billboard 11 Nov. 1944: 64.
  18. “Out-of-Town Opening.” Billboard 18 Nov. 1944: 29.
  19. “Broadway Openings.” Billboard 6 Jan. 1945: 31.
  20. “Move Machine Reviews.” Billboard 27 Jan. 1945: 65.
  21. “Out-of-Town Opening.” Billboard 12 May 1945: 33.
  22. “Broadway Openings.” Billboard 2 Jun. 1945: 34.
  23. “Ida James to South Pacific.” The Afro-American [Baltimore, MD] 24 Nov. 1945: 8.
  24. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 1 Jun. 1946: 29.
  25. “Gate Sights Sock 50G.” Billboard 6 Jul. 1946: 43.
  26. “Night Club Reviews: Zanzibar, New York.” Billboard 1 Mar. 1947: 38.
  27. “Diskeries Enter 4th Wk. Rush on Pre-Ban Talent.” Billboard 20 Dec. 1947: 18.
  28. “Clarence Robinson Returns Negro Shows to Village.” Billboard 25 Sep. 1948: 41.
  29. “Night Club Reviews: The Savannah Club, New York.” Billboard 2 Oct. 1948: 26.
  30. “Night Club Reviews: The Savannah Club, New York.” Billboard 26 Mar. 1949: 48.
  31. “Music as Written.” Billboard 28 May 1949: 37.
  32. “Out-of-Town Opening.” Billboard 24 Dec. 1949: 47.
  33. “Broadway Openings.” Billboard 7 Jan. 1950: 39.
  34. “Rhythm and Blues Notes.” Billboard 3 Feb. 1951: 28.
  35. “Nickelodeon Disk Sales Start June 2.” Billboard 23 May 1953: 171.
  36. “Rhythm and Blues Notes.” Billboard 26 Sep. 1953: 53.
  37. “Music as Written.” Billboard 19 Nov. 1955: 14.