Joya Sherrill

Photo of Joya Sherrill
  • Born

    August 20, 1924
    Bayonne, New Jersey
  • Died

    June 28, 2010 (age 85)
    Great Neck, New York
  • Orchestras

    Duke Ellington

Vocalist Joya Sherrill re­ceived her big break while still a high school stu­dent in Detroit. She wrote lyrics to Duke Ellingtons fa­mous tune Take the A’ Train,” and her fa­ther, a promi­nent writer, arranged for Ellington to hear her per­for­mance of it while he was in town. Sherrill im­pressed Ellington, and he of­fered her a job when Ivie Anderson left his band in August 1942. She shared vo­cal­ist du­ties with Betty Roché and Phyllis Smiley.

Sherrill did­n’t stay long with Ellington, leav­ing in October to fin­ish school. She re­turned, though, around the first of November 1944, tak­ing over for Rosita Davis, and made her first ma­jor record­ing, I’m Beginning to See the Light,” that December. She stayed with Ellington into 1946. In February of that year, she mar­ried Richard Guilemont in Detroit. She an­nounced she would re­main with the band, how­ever she left in June to fo­cus on rais­ing a fam­ily.

Never in­tend­ing to re­tire, Sherrill re­turned to singing later in the decade, con­tract­ing with Jubilee Records in 1949 and per­form­ing on the night­club and bur­lesque cir­cuits. In 1950, she shot scenes for the film Hurly Burly, which fea­tured a num­ber of bur­lesque tal­ents. An early pro­ject of di­rec­tor Harold Hal” Goldman, it seems to never have been re­leased or to have been com­pletely for­got­ten.

Sherill worked off and on through the 1950s, record­ing as vo­cal­ist for the Bigs Howard Orchestra in 1953 and on a shared al­bum with Sammy Davis Jr., Sammy Jumps with Joya, in 1957. Davis and Sherrill did not sing any duets on the al­bum how­ever. In May 1957, Sherrill ap­peared with Ellington on tele­vi­sion’s US Steel Hour, singing as part of his jazz fan­tasy work A Drum Is a Woman.” She toured with Teddy Wilsons or­ches­tra later that same year. In February 1960, she ap­peared in a mi­nor role in the Broadway pro­duc­tion of The Long Dream, which ran for three days at the Ambassador Theater.

After be­ing rel­a­tively in­ac­tive as a singer for sev­eral years, Sherrill emerged again in a big way dur­ing 1962 when she was cho­sen to ac­com­pany Benny Goodman on his tour of the Soviet Union, mak­ing her the first American jazz singer to per­form in that coun­try. Sherrill elicted con­tro­versy, how­ever, when she chose to sing a sul­try jazz ver­sion of a pa­tri­otic Soviet song, Katusha.” Her ren­di­tion pro­voked a strong neg­a­tive re­ac­tion through­out the com­mu­nist state. Crowds jeered at her, and the Soviet gov­ern­ment de­nounced her per­for­mance as in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Sherrill and Goodman ex­pressed in­dig­na­tion, fail­ing to un­der­stand that, to Soviet au­di­ences, it was the equiv­a­lent of a Russian singer do­ing a strip-tease to the Star Spangled Banner.” Goodman re­moved the song from his show, how­ever, af­ter only a few dates.

Sherrill was briefly an in­ter­na­tional celebrity af­ter the tour, and upon her re­turn she found her­self in­vited on sev­eral tele­vi­sion pro­grams, in­clud­ing those of Ed Sullivan, Jack Paar, and the Tonight Show. Her mo­ment in the lime­light soon passed, how­ever, and she re­turned to oc­ca­sional per­for­mances, of­ten work­ing with Ellington. She sang with his or­ches­tra on Canadian tele­vi­sion and at his 70th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion hosted by the White House. She also per­formed in his jazz pro­ject My People.

In 1970, Sherrill hosted her own chil­dren’s tele­vi­sion pro­gram, Time for Joya! on WPIX in New York. The show fea­tured songs, sto­ries, pup­pets and art. She con­tin­ued singing through the end of the cen­tury, of­ten in con­nec­tion with Ellington trib­ute events. Joya Sherrill passed away in 2010.


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  • I'm Beginning to See the Light
    Duke Ellington (Joya Sherrill), Victor (1944)
  • I Didn't Know About You
    Duke Ellington (Joya Sherrill), Victor (1944)
  • Kissing Bug
    Duke Ellington (Joya Sherrill), Victor (1945)
  • The Wonder of You
    Duke Ellington (Joya Sherrill), Victor (1945)
  • Everything But You
    Duke Ellington (Joya Sherrill), Victor (1945)
  • All of a Sudden
    Duke Ellington (Joya Sherrill), Victor (1945)

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


  1. “Joya Sherrill.” Internet Broadway Database. Accessed 19 Mar. 2018.
  2. Stratemann, Klaus. Duke Ellington, Day by Day, Film by Film Jazz Media, 1992, p. 259.
  3. Billingsworth, E. “Encores and Echoes.” Baltimore Afro-American 22 Sep. 1942: 8.
  4. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 31 Oct. 1942: 23.
  5. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 30 Dec. 1944: 13.
  6. “As a Matter of Record.” San Antonio Light 31 Dec. 1944: 28.
  7. “Music As Written.” Billboard 9 Mar. 1946: 22.
  8. “Vaudeville Review: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 22 Jun. 1946: 48.
  9. “Music As Written.” Billboard 13 Jul. 1946: 24.
  10. “Music As Written.” Billboard 26 Feb. 1949: 24.
  11. “Burlesque Bits.” Billboard 17 Feb. 1951: 40.
  12. “Rhythm & Blues Notes.” Billboard 26 Jan. 1952: 14.
  13. “Phil Moore Flock Delivers 2-Hour Stage Revue in Fast Tab Format.” Billboard 29 Nov. 1952: 4.
  14. “Popular Record Reviews.” Billboard 16 May 1953: 36.
  15. “Wednesday Evening Television Programs.” Bristol Daily Courier 8 May 1957: 34.
  16. “Album Reviews.” Billboard 28 Oct. 1957: 5.
  17. “Jazz Group Featured in Concert.” The Hammond Times [Hammond, Indiana] 24 Nov. 1957: B-1.
  18. “Songwriting Joya Headed For Moscow.” Bristol Daily Courier [Bristol, Pennsylvania] 24 May 1962: 7.
  19. “Goodman Singer Denounced By Red Paper For Rendition Of Partisan Song.” Danville Register [Danville, Virginia] 6 Jun. 1962: 14-B.
  20. “Festival Presents 'The Duke'.” Winnipeg Free Press 28 Feb. 1965: 15.
  21. Wilson, Earl. “On the Town.” The Morning Herald [Uniontown, Pennsylvania] 4 Aug. 1969: 4.
  22. O'Brian, Jack. “The Eyes and Ears of Gay Broadway.” The Hamilton Daily News Journal [Hamilton, Ohio] 26 Jun. 1970: 4.