Louise Tobin

Photo of Louise Tobin

Best remembered today for her work with Benny Goodman and her marriage to Harry James, vocalist Louise Tobin is often celebrated for having discovered Frank Sinatra. Tobin had a busy career in the late 1930s but became less active in the 1940s as she split her time between singing and raising her two sons. She returned to full-time activity again in 1960 and continued singing into the 1990s.

A native Texan, Tobin was born in Aubrey, but by 1920 her family had moved in Denton, where her father worked as a farmer. She was one of eleven children. The family later spent time in Plainview. By 1930, Tobin’s father had passed away and the family had settled in Amarillo. They had returned to Denton by late 1932. Tobin began singing while in high school, performing in local shows and benefits. In 1934, she sang with the Texas State College for Women orchestra.[1] Active in high school, Tobin competed in declamation, read poetry at recitals, and participated in various groups and committees.

Early Career

During the summer of 1934, at age fifteen, Tobin made her professional debut at the Palace Theater in Dallas, where she was held over for three weeks. Her Palace appearance was followed by runs at the Metropolitan Theatre in Houston and a theater in Beaumont, Texas. During this time she first met Harry James, whose family had settled in southeast Texas. Tobin then returned to the Dallas area, performing multiple weeks at the Sylvan Theater near Arlington in October and then at the Palace again. She sang over radio stations WFAA and WBAP that fall before joining Art Hicks’ orchestra in November for a tour of Texas. The tour later took Tobin and the band, which included James, east to New York.[2]

Returning to Denton in June 1935, Tobin joined Ligon Smith’s orchestra for the summer, broadcasting over radio station KTAT and traveling across Texas with the band. She and James married on July 18, 1935, in Shreveport, Louisiana. Tobin was only sixteen years old at the time. She then finished up her contract with Smith and left with James for Chicago, where he was to play with Ben Pollack’s orchestra and she had a singing job lined up. In January 1936, she appeared on Chicago station WGN.

Tobin had returned to Texas by summer 1936, where she again worked with Smith’s orchestra. By late 1936, she was in New York, performing in theaters and night clubs, including the Loew’s State in New York that October. James joined Goodman in December of that year. According to a popular story told by columnists at the time, Tobin was doing nightclub work in late 1938 at Nick’s Greenwich Village when musicians from Goodman’s band heard her sing and told James he should go listen, after which James calmly informed his surprised bandmates that she was his wife.

Tobin performed in Chicago in December 1938 and early 1939. She was singing with Bobby Hackett’s band when Goodman signed her in mid-1939 to replace the departing Martha Tilton. She made her first recordings with Goodman’s orchestra. Rumors constantly flew that Tobin was leaving the band, which she finally did in November after she fell critically ill.[3] She had returned to singing by late April 1940, joining Jack Jenney’s band, which broke up mid-year. After plans to record on Columbia under the supervision of John Hammond failed to materialize, Tobin briefly joined Will Bradley in July, leaving at the end of September when she learned that she had become pregnant with her first child. She then returned to Denton to stay with her family.[4]

Though Tobin was married to Harry James, she never sang with his band.[5] Informally, reports said that James didn’t feel comfortable with his spouse working for him, though in an exclusive article for Down Beat magazine in October 1939 he gave a different reason, stating that Tobin could learn more from Goodman and make better money there.[6] Tobin reportedly called her husband’s attention to singer Frank Sinatra, whom she had heard on the radio.

Later Career

Tobin gave birth to a son in February 1941, after which she returned to New York and took up residence. False rumors had her joining Bradley’s band again in mid-1941.[7] Reports in mid-1941 also stated that Tobin planned to file for divorce from James, though that did not happen, and the couple had another son in March of the following year. She and James finally separated in 1942, with Tobin retiring from show business and settling in California to raise their sons. In spring 1943, James requested a divorce after he’d met and become engaged to actress Betty Grable while working on the film Springtime in the Rockies. Tobin granted him a quick Mexican divorce, and James married Grable on July 5. In late 1944, James agreed to pay $6,000 a year alimony along with setting up a $14,000 trust fund for their children.

After her divorce from James, Tobin lived quietly in Los Angeles until late 1945 when she returned to singing, performing with Emil Coleman’s orchestra in a soundie for RCM that year and appearing on the Ted Steele Presents radio show over KMPC in early 1946. She then recorded as vocalist with Tommy Jones and His Orchestra on Sterling later in 1946. Tobin appeared with the Three Bachelors vocal group in late 1947, creating an act called Three Bachelors and a Lady. In 1948, she joined Ziggy Elman’s orchestra, staying with the band until at least 1951.[8]

Tobin returned to Denton around the beginning of 1953, where she settled and raised her two sons. In 1954 and 1955, she recorded for the MGM label. She semi-retired in the late 1950s, performing only sporadically in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and often for various causes. In 1957, Tobin sang at a fundraiser in Dallas, presenting “safe and sane renditions of popular dance tunes,” and in 1959 she appeared in a variety show sponsored by the Girls’ Service League at the famous Casa Mañana theater in Fort Worth. She resumed her professional career in 1960 after her youngest son had graduated high school.

In 1967, Tobin married clarinetist Peanuts Hucko, with whose various groups she sang and recorded. The couple moved to Denver in the 1970s, where they operated a nightclub. They later settled in her native Texas, living in Denton. In 1987, the couple assumed leadership of the Benny Goodman Alumni Orchestra, with whom Tobin sang and toured.

Tobin passed away on November 26, 2022, at the age of 104.


  1. The school changed its name from the College of Industrial Art to Texas State College for Women in 1934, often just called Teachers College, though articles continued to refer to it as CIA for the next few years. Some early sources say that Tobin was a student at the college, which is untrue. ↩︎

  2. Tobin’s mother accompanied her during her time with Hicks. According to contemporary sources, Tobin performed with several “well-known” orchestras while in the East, though none are ever named. The 1940 census places both Tobin and James in Albany, New York, in April 1935. ↩︎

  3. What caused Tobin’s illness is never mentioned. ↩︎

  4. Denton newspapers, instead of reporting her pregnancy, stated that she was “temporarily retiring for a needed rest.” Other reports say she was “ill.” ↩︎

  5. James left Goodman in December 1938 to form his own band. ↩︎

  6. James’ band struggled in its early years and was always one step away from breaking up due to financial issues. ↩︎

  7. Tobin was apparently under a radio contract that prevented her from signing with any band. ↩︎

  8. Elman was a former Goodman and James band member who often fronted the James orchestra when Harry was absent. ↩︎


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 26 Jul. 2015.
  3. “New High School Club Names Heads.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 5 Oct. 1932: 5.
  4. “Business Women To Present Play Friday Evening.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 6 Jul. 1933: 4.
  5. “Sing-Song Held At High School Assembly.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 9 Oct. 1933: 3.
  6. “Leisure Time Topic For Hi-Yi Meeting.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 15 Mar. 1934: 7.
  7. “23 Names From County Meet Are Sent to District.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 5 Apr. 1934: 6.
  8. “32 Couples Attend Semi-formal Dance.” The Lass-o [Texas State College for Women, Denton, Texas] 26 Jul. 1934: 4.
  9. “Miss Tobin To Sing at Theater.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 2 Aug. 1934: 8.
  10. “News Briefs.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 15 Aug. 1934: 4.
  11. “Miss Tobin Sings In Sylvan Programs.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 10 Oct. 1934: 4.
  12. “Miss Tobin to Close Broadcasts Tonight.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 8 Nov. 1934: 4.
  13. “Miss Tobin Sings On Sylvan Program.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 18 Jun. 1935: 3.
  14. “Announcing Marriage Of Miss Tobin.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 25 Jul. 1935: 4.
  15. “Special Number Are To Be Offered By Smith And Band.” The Lubbock Morning Avalanche [Lubbock, Texas] 25 Jul. 1935: 12.
  16. “CCC Promotes Local Youths.” The Amarillo Globe 29 Jul. 1935: 5.
  17. “Former Miss Tobin Singing Over Radio.” Denton, Texas, Record Chronicle 11 Jan. 1936: 4.
  18. Advertisement. “Ligon Smith.” The Amarillo Globe 9 Jul. 1936: 11.
  19. Denis, Paul. “Vaudeville Reviews: Loew's State, New York.” Billboard 10 Oct. 1936: 16.
  20. Spelvin, George. “Broadway Beat.” Billboard 1 Oct. 1938: 5.
  21. Oldfield, Barney. “Theater Topics.” Lincoln Sunday Journal [Lincoln, Nebraska] 2 Oct. 1938: D-11.
  22. “She Wasn't At the Convention.” Down Beat Jul. 1939: 20.
  23. Richman, Daniel. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 2 Sep. 1939: 10.
  24. “Mrs. Harry James.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1939: 13.
  25. James, Harry. “Here's Why Louise Tobin Is With BG.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1939: 1.
  26. “Stop Press!” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1939: 6.
  27. Sher, Jack. “New York Reporter.” Screen & Radio Weekly 26 Nov. 1939: 2.
  28. “BG Still Not Satisfied With His Band Boys.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1939: 20.
  29. “The Biggest News Stories of the Year.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1940: 11.
  30. Advertisement. “Stanley.” Chester Times [Chester, Pennsylvania] 26 Apr. 1940: 4.
  31. Feather, Leonard G. “Louise Tobin Well Again.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1940: 2.
  32. “Returning.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1940: 20.
  33. “Scrapbook Tells Vivid Story of Rise to Stardom by Denton Girl.” Denton, Texas, Record-Chronicle 5 Oct. 1940: 4.
  34. “Bradley Gets Sparrow.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1940: 1.
  35. “Son Born to Harry James, Louise Tobin.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1941: 23.
  36. “Louise Tobin in New York; Denies Joining Bradley.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1941: 2.
  37. “Bowling Comfort.” St. Petersburg Times [St. Petersburg, Florida] 7 Mar. 1942: 10.
  38. Dexter, Dave Jr. “I'm Own Boss Now—Harry James.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1942: 1.
  39. “James to Seek Divorce From Louise Tobin.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1943: 2.
  40. “James Baby Due in Spring.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1943: 3.
  41. “Orchestra Leader Makes Settlement with Former Wife.” The St. Petersburg Evening Independent [St. Petersburg, Florida] 14 Oct. 1944: 3.
  42. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1944: 5.
  43. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 15 Dec. 1945: 82.
  44. “Louise Tobin Guest Stars.” Down Beat 25 Feb. 1946: 5.
  45. “Louise Tobin Back On Air Again.” Down Beat 11 Mar. 1946: 6.
  46. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 20 Apr. 1946: 33.
  47. “Bachelors Add Pretty Maid.” Down Beat 8 Oct. 1947: 3.
  48. “On the Stand: Ziggy Elman.” Billboard 11 Sep. 1948: 37.
  49. “Denton Doings.” Denton, Texas, Record-Chronicle 20 Jul. 1950: 3.
  50. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 10 Nov. 1951: 94.
  51. Edwards, R.J. “Round About Town.” Denton, Texas, Record-Chronicle 22 Feb. 1953: 1.
  52. “Reviews of New Pop Records.” Billboard 27 Nov. 1954: 40.
  53. Rogers, Jay. “Reel Roving.” Denton, Texas, Record-Chronicle 20 Feb. 1955: 2-6.
  54. “Invitation Given SMU Students By Local Club.” The SMU Campus [Dallas, Texas] 6 Mar. 1957: 3.
  55. “James Brothers Attend Speech, Band Clinics.” Denton, Texas, Record-Chronicle 23 Jun. 1958: 2-5.
  56. “Son Of Man With Horn Finds Out About Service.” Denton, Texas, Record-Chronicle 15 Mar. 1959: 5.
  57. “Wednesday at Casa.” The Daily News-Texan [Arlington, Texas] 15 Sep. 1959: 1.
  58. Kilgallen, Dorothy. “Voice of Broadway.” Anderson Daily Bulletin [Anderson, Indiana] 5 Apr. 1960: 4.
  59. “King of the Clarinet and Jazz Five Reminisce.” Ocala Star-Banner [Ocala, Florida] 9 Nov. 1976: 9A.
  60. de Yampert, Rick. “Musicians Play Tribute to Band Leader.” The Daytona Beach News-Journal [Daytona Beach, Florida] 31 Jan. 1992: 1D.
  61. de Yampert, Rick. “Vocalist Says Swing Finding a New Audience.” The Daytona Beach News-Journal [Daytona Beach, Florida] 31 Jan. 1992: 1D.
  62. Shelton, Keith. “Big Band is Back.” Grapevine Sun [Grapevine, Texas] 13 Jan. 1994: 1B.
  63. “Obituary: Peanuts Hucko.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune [Sarasota, Florida] 25 Jun. 2003: 5.
  64. “Louis Tobin, big-band singer who helped discover Frank Sinatra, dies at 104.” The Washington Post 26 Nov. 2022, www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/louise-tobin-big-band-singer-who-helped-discover-frank-sinatra-dies-at-104/ar-AA14AICt?cvid=04e3fe480a8a45efb21f64d152e7b73d. Accessed 27 Nov. 2022.
  65. “Texas Birth Certificates, 1903-1935,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:X2LD-32N : Sat Mar 09 06:54:26 UTC 2024), Entry for Mary Louise Tobin and Hugh Tobin, 14 Nov 1918.
  66. “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MC99-FR9 : Sun Mar 10 18:52:15 UTC 2024), Entry for Mr Hugh Tobin and Mrs May Tobin, 1920.
  67. “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:HNR2-N6Z : Sun Mar 10 21:32:23 UTC 2024), Entry for May Tobin and Ray Tobin, 1930.
  68. “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K7M8-Y98 : Fri Mar 08 11:50:16 UTC 2024), Entry for Louise James, 1940.
  69. “Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VDDT-YCH : 1 January 2015), Mary Louise Tobin in entry for Harry Jeffery James, 03 Mar 1941; from “Texas Birth Index, 1903-1997,” database and images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : 2005); citing Texas Department of State Health Services.
  70. “California Birth Index, 1905-1995,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VLJM-WZ1 : 27 November 2014), Tobin in entry for Jerin Timothyray James, 21 Mar 1942; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
  71. “United States Census, 1950,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6XG7-LWYS : Mon Mar 18 23:28:14 UTC 2024), Entry for Mary L James and Harry J James, April 10, 1950.