Popular culture fondly remembers vocalist Jane Harvey, mostly for her associations with Benny Goodman and Desi Arnaz. Harvey’s time with both orchestras was brief, however, and she spent the majority of the 1940s singing in nightclubs. Harvey made only a handful of recordings during the big band era, none of them hits, though her legacy has continued to endure. A great deal of false information exists about Harvey’s career, including an incorrect attribution to singing with Duke Ellington’s orchestra.
Harvey got her start performing in New York clubs during the mid-1940s, where she attracted the attention of Benny Goodman, who signed her in December 1944 to sing on recordings with his small combos. When he put together a new orchestra in March 1945, Harvey became its vocalist. Early reviews of Harvey criticize her as a singer with a small voice and a slight lisp who tried to sing “smart” songs but didn’t fit the part. One critic in November 1944 felt that she needed a lot more experience before she was ready for the big time. Even after several months of working for Goodman, reviewers complained that she had no stage savvy.
Despite her shortcomings, Harvey recorded several sides with Goodman and remained with his band until sometime between early April and the end of May 1945, when she left to sing solo again. She appeared on several radio programs through the later half of the year and landed a spot as secondary singer to Johnny Desmond on NBC’s The Teentimers Club in November. She also recorded two sides on Columbia, backed by Mitchell Ayres, that same month. Near the end of 1945, Harvey briefly filled in for Doris Day in Les Brown’s band.
In March 1946, Harvey subbed for an ailing Mildred Bailey at New York’s Blue Angel club. Though she proved a crowd pleaser, reviewers again complained that she tried to be too sophisticated. Part of Harvey’s problem, according to critics, was that she sang very slow and risked losing the crowd’s attention in a nightclub atmosphere where she had to compete with drinks and conversation. Her stint at the Blue Angel, though, proved fruitful, finding her work recording with Dick Stabile’s orchestra in April. She made two soundies for Filmcraft soon after, He’s Funny That Way, a tune which she’d sang with Goodman under the title “She’s Funny That Way”, and It’s a Pity to Say Goodnight.
Harvey’s stay at the Blue Angel also caught the attention of Desi Arnaz, who invited her to the West Coast with promises to sing for his band. She had begun her association with Arnaz by May 1946 when she appeared with the orchestra on a radio special, and in November, Bob Hope, on whose radio show Arnaz’s band starred, signed her to appear as well. She made four recordings with Arnaz in October and December, the latter month also finding 20th Century Fox offering her a screen test. She stayed with Arnaz until early January 1947 when she signed with Victor as a solo artist.
Back on her own again, Harvey returned to the nightclub and radio circuit. She also starred as “tele queen” for a series of stunts by new Los Angeles television station KFI in March 1947. She later appeared on several other early West Coast television programs. Harvey recorded a few sides with Victor through mid-1947, including several with the Page Cavanaugh Trio, and then went without a recording contract until January 1949, when she signed with MGM, for whom she recorded through early 1951.
In late 1950, Harvey appeared in the short-lived Broadway revue Bless You All, which ran until February 1951. She made a second screen test in summer of that year, this time with Paramount. In 1953, she recorded on the Bell label.
Harvey’s love affairs were frequent fodder for the gossip columns in the 1940s. She married Jay Hyde, son of a William Morris Agency executive, in September 1949, but had divorced him by 1954 when she married legendary music producer Bob Thiele, then with Coral Records. They had a son, Bob Junior, the following year, which briefly sidelined Harvey’s career. She returned to singing in 1957, recording on Roulette Records that year and then on Dot in 1958. She recorded on the Signature label in 1959 and 1960.
Harvey continued singing up through the 2010s, recorded occasionally and appearing on television several times, including on Arthur Murray’s dance program in 1959 and on The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, in 1962 and 1963. She also appeared on the Mike Douglas talk show in 1970 and later on the Today Show in 1988 promoting an album of Stephen Sondheim songs. She and Thiele divorced in 1960, and she later married William King. The couple remained together until her death from cancer in 2013.
Harvey’s online bios are a complete mess, with many being wildly inaccurate. While she did record a tribute album of Duke Ellington songs, she did not record or sing with Ellington at any time, though she’s sometimes linked to Ellington through the Johnny Burke song “A Hundred Dreams From Now,” which she recorded solo in 1960, backed by Billy Strayhorn’s orchestra. Ellington also recorded an adaption of the song as “A Hundred Dreams Ago.” His version was instrumental and featured no vocalist. ↩︎
Interestingly, Harvey get keeping younger as the years went by. In 1946, the 21-year-old singer claimed to be 20, and a year later she claimed to be 19. ↩︎