Considered one of the finest singers during the big band era, Ivie Anderson was a fluent vocalist who impressed many with her blues and scat phrasings. Most impressed was Duke Ellington, who kept her on as vocalist for eleven years, until she retired due to health problems.
Born in California, young Ivie received vocal training at her local St. Mary’s Convent and later spent two years studying with Sara Ritt in Washington, D.C. Returning home, she found work with Curtis Mosby, Paul Howard, Sonny Clay, and briefly with Anson Weeks at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in Los Angeles. She also appeared in vaudeville, touring the country as a dancer and vocalist in the Fanchon and Marco revue, starring Mamie Smith, and with the Shuffle Along revue. She was featured vocalist at the Culver City Cotton Club before leaving to tour Australia in 1928 with Sonny Clay. Returning after five months down under, she organized her own show and toured the U.S. In 1930, she found work with Earl Hines.
It was while appearing with Hines that Ellington first heard her sing. At first, Anderson had no interest in auditioning for the Duke, but Hines talked her into it, knowing it was the chance of a lifetime. Ellington hired her in February 1931, and she quickly became a fixture of the orchestra’s sound, joining at a time when Ellington was defining the emerging swing genre that would soon sweep the nation. She gave voice to some of the band’s most memorable tunes of the era, “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Stormy Weather,” and “Rose of the Rio Grande.” In 1937, she also cut sides with the Gotham Stompers and the Boys of Dixie/Dixie Boys, and in 1939 she was featured in the Marx Brothers’ film A Day at the Races, singing “All God’s Chillun’ Got Rhythm.”
Semi-retiring in August 1942 due to chronic asthma, Anderson opened her own chicken shack restaurant in Los Angeles. She continued to sing regularly in West Coast nightclubs and make occasional recordings, including with Ceele Burke’s orchestra in 1944 on the Exclusive label and on the Black and White label with Phil Moore’s orchestra in 1946. She also recorded as Ivie Anderson and Her All-Stars that year as well. Her medical condition kept her from touring extensively, however, and ultimately led to her early death. Ivie Anderson passed away in December 1949.