Lucy Ann Polk

aka Lucyann Polk

Photo of Lucy Ann Polk

Perhaps the most talented female vocalist in the later part of the big band era, Lucy Ann Polk left her mark on music history as a singer for Tommy Dorsey and Les Brown in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Polk began her career at a young age as part of the Town Criers vocal group, emerging in the mid-1940s as a breakout star. She mixed solo and group work for several years before leaving the Criers in 1948 and concentrating on her own career. Polk was voted best female band singer for four years in a row—1951, 1952, 1953, and 1954—by Down Beat magazine readers before leaving Brown’s orchestra to focus on home life and solo work. Her solo career never really took off due to her disinterest in touring.

The Polk siblings, Gordon, Elva, Vernon, and Lucy Ann, from oldest to youngest, were born in Idaho during the 1920s and raised in Spokane, Washington, where the family moved not long after Lucy Ann’s birth. As children they began performing at a young age, often at local theaters to gain free admission to films. In addition to singing, they backed themselves by playing guitar, bass and xylophone. In 1936, billed as the Four Polks, they earned their own radio program on Spokane station KHQ. They also sang on KHPY and later spent a year on Seattle radio before winning a contest sponsored by Al Pierce, who brought them to Los Angeles in the 1940 or 1941 to sing on his radio program. The siblings, along with their parents, remained in California, performing at local clubs and theaters and making two soundies for RCM, The Old Oaken Bucket and Miss You, before they caught the attention of bandleader Bobby Sherwood, who hired them for his band in mid-1942.

Band Years

The Four Polks stayed with Sherwood only a few months, joining Les Brown’s band in November 1942, where pianist Willie Rowland dubbed them the Town Criers, the name that they would use for the rest of the decade. With Brown, the group began to attract national attention. After leaving the orchestra at the end of 1943, they did club and radio work before ending up with Bob Crosby, touring with his band and appearing on his radio program. They made their first recording with Crosby in summer 1944 on the ARA label, just before he entered the Marines. With Crosby in the service, they became part of Kay Kyser’s College of Musical Knowledge. When Crosby returned from the service in late 1945, they once again joined him while also still appearing with Kyser. They recorded again on the ARA in 1945.

The Polk siblings remained together until at least early 1945. Sometime after that and before mid-1946, both Elva and Vernon left the group. Gordon and Lucy Ann continued on with the Town Criers, bringing in replacements. Aside from singing, their act featured comedy, mostly provided by Gordon, and gimmicks. They appeared in two films in 1945, RKO’s Radio Stars on Parade and an uncredited appearance in Columbia’s musical western Song of the Prairie starring Ken Curtis. In 1946, they appeared in another Columbia Ken Curtis musical western, Cowboy Blues, for which they received credit.

By the mid-1940s, both Lucy Ann and Gordon had begun to make names for themselves as soloists. When Georgia Carroll, who was Mrs. Kay Kyser, retired from singing at the end of 1945 due to pregnancy, Lucy Ann took her spot as the band’s featured female vocalist. Billed as “Lucyann” Polk during her time with Kyser, she made her first solo recordings with the orchestra on Columbia.

In addition to their solo work, both Lucy Ann and Gordon continued singing with the Town Criers, who still appeared with both bands throughout 1946. The vocal group made several recordings on the ARA label and also recorded for the Music Survey label, which pre-tested songs for music publishing firms. In July 1946, Lucy Ann announced that she’d been secretly married to trombonist Dick Noel, whom she had met while with Brown and who was currently with Harry James.

By early 1947, both the Town Criers and Lucy Ann had left Kyser. They remained with Crosby, touring with his orchestra and appearing on his radio show until May 1947, when they joined Dorsey’s new group, formed after his original outfit had disbanded in December 1946. Aside from their duties with the Town Criers, both Gordon and Lucy Ann also sang solo for Dorsey. The Town Criers, with Gordon and Lucy Ann, left Dorsey in March 1948 to do a solo act, bringing in three more members. The new act failed to take off and both Polks returned to Dorsey in May, this time without the Town Criers.

Lucy Ann remained with Dorsey until late 1949, when she signed a solo contract with Bluebird. She didn’t remain solo for long, however, instead joining Les Brown a month later. With Brown, Polk really came into her own, quickly capturing the public’s ear and emerging as one of the top singers in the country. She remained with Brown for four years, winning Down Beat magazine’s reader poll for best female band singer in each of those years. She continued to make solo appearances on radio and early television while working for both Dorsey and Brown.

Polk’s husband, Noel, joined Brown in 1950. The couple had bought a home in the San Fernando Valley, and Lucy Ann became increasingly content to remain there. She decided to quit Brown in June 1953. According to Polk, she was worried that no one would be there to take care of their newly-landscaped front yard if she and her husband both went out on tour.

Post-Band Years

After leaving Brown’s band, Polk signed with Trend Records, owned by the rich jazz philanthropist Albert Marx, who teamed her with the Dave Pell Octet for a series of well-received recordings.[1] She soon began working regular gigs with Pell’s group as featured vocalist. In mid-1954, Noel left Brown’s band and formed a small combo to back Lucy Ann on further Trend recordings and in live performances in the Los Angeles area.[2] She and Noel recorded on the Starlite label in 1955. In 1956, Polk spent six months on the Red Rowe television program, and in 1957 she provided vocals for Jerry Fielding on Decca.[3]

In 1958, Polk found herself back in the spotlight when Mode Records released an album of recordings titled Lucky Lucy Ann. The album received excellent reviews, and Polk made the rounds in the press. She recorded a jazz album for the Interlude label in 1959, but her lack of promotional touring meant that she quickly faded from the public’s eye again. She supported each album with only casual engagements in her home area.

Polk outlived each of her siblings by 25 or more years, passing away in 2011 at age 84.[4]

Notes

  1. Pell had played tenor sax with Brown’s orchestra and had left Brown not long after Polk. ↩︎

  2. Lucy Ann’s brother, Vernon, a talented guitarist, joined Noel’s combo in 1957. Vernon had been part of Les Brown’s band from 1953 to 1957. ↩︎

  3. Fielding had been the arranger for Lucy Ann’s recordings with Noel. ↩︎

  4. Some unreliable modern sources give Lucy Ann Polk’s birth year as 1928, however contemporary sources indicate she was born earlier. In a December 1944 issue of Down Beat, Polk’s age was given as 17, which would have made her birth year 1927. In a 1952 interview, Polk stated that she’d been singing in bands since she was 15 years old. She first joined Sherwood’s band in mid-1942 which would also make her birth year 1927. ↩︎

Music

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  • Come with Me My Honey
    Bob Crosby (Bob Crosby and The Town Criers), ARA (1944)
  • Dance with a Dolly
    The Town Criers, ARA (1944)
  • Kiss Me Hello
    The Town Criers, ARA (1945)
  • Coffee Time
    Kay Kyser (Lucyann Polk, Michael Douglas), Columbia (1945)
  • I Don't Wanna Do It Alone
    Kay Kyser (Lucyann Polk), Columbia (1945)
  • You're the Cause of It All
    Kay Kyser (Lucyann Polk), Columbia (1946)
  • Love on a Greyhound Bus
    Kay Kyser (Lucyann Polk and the Campus Kids), Columbia (1946)
  • The Snail Song
    The Town Criers, ARA (1946)
  • Moon Love
    Tommy Dorsey (The Town Criers, The Sentimentalists), RCA Victor (1947)
  • Baby, Baby All the Time
    Tommy Dorsey (Lucy Ann Polk), RCA Victor (1947)
  • Because I Care
    Tommy Dorsey (Harry Prime, The Town Criers, The Clark Sisters), RCA Victor (1947)
  • Until
    Tommy Dorsey (Harry Prime, The Town Criers, The Clark Sisters), RCA Victor (1947)
  • Starlight Rendezvous
    Tommy Dorsey (Harry Prime, The Town Criers, The Clark Sisters), RCA Victor (1947)
  • Down by the Station
    Tommy Dorsey (Lucy Ann Polk, Denny Dennis, The Sentimentalists), RCA Victor (1948)
  • You Know What the Trouble Is, Baby
    Tommy Dorsey (Lucy Ann Polk), RCA Victor (1948)
  • Waitin' at the Station
    Les Brown (Lucy Ann Polk), Columbia (1949)
  • Thirsty for Your Kisses
    Les Brown (Lucy Ann Polk), Columbia (1950)
  • I'll Be Around
    Les Brown (Lucy Ann Polk), Coral (1951)
  • If You Turn Me Down (Dee-Own_Down-Down)
    Les Brown (Lucy Ann Polk), Coral (1951)
  • In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening
    Les Brown (Lucy Ann Polk), Coral (1951)
  • My Heart Belongs to Daddy
    Les Brown (Lucy Ann Polk), Coral (1953)
  • Back in Your Own Back Yard
    Les Brown (Lucy Ann Polk), Coral (1953)
  • It's Better to Give Than to Receive
    Lucy Ann Polk, Starlite (1955)
  • Drive Safely Darlin'
    Lucy Ann Polk, Starlite (1955)

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

Sources

  1. “Lucy Ann Polk.” IMDb. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.
  2. “The Town Criers.” IMDb. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.
  3. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Los Angeles.” Billboard 30 May 1942: 18.
  4. Advertisement. “Les Brown.” Billboard 28 Nov. 1942: 23.
  5. “Bands Dug by the Beat: Les Brown.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1943: 18.
  6. “Bands Dug by the Beat: Les Brown.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1943: 16.
  7. Dugan, Bill. “The Bandbox.” Down Beat 15 May 1943: 19.
  8. “Family Group is Bona Fide.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1943: 6.
  9. “Send Birthday Greetings to.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1943: 31.
  10. “Along Melody Row.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1944: 12.
  11. “Send Birthday Greetings to.” Down Beat 15 May 1944: 92.
  12. “New Platter Firm Waxes Jazzmen.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1944: 12.
  13. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 2 Dec. 1944: 92.
  14. “Polks Go Into Their Dance.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1944: 3.
  15. “What's on the Air.” Wisconsin State Journal [Madison, WI] 10 Jan. 1945: 11.
  16. Advertisement. “Leeds Music Corporation.” Billboard 10 Mar. 1945: 16.
  17. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 7 Apr. 1945: 25.
  18. “On the Beat in Hollywood.” Down Beat 1 May 1945: 7.
  19. “Stork To Call On Georgia Carroll.” Down Beat 14 Jan. 1946: 16.
  20. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 11 Feb. 1946: 19.
  21. “Gil Rodin Returns, Crosby Crew Mgr.” Down Beat 25 Feb. 1946: 3.
  22. “New Date For Town Criers.” Down Beat 25 Feb. 1946: 15.
  23. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 8 Apr. 1946: 8.
  24. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 1 Jun. 1946: 117.
  25. “Leeds 'Home,' Shap-Bernstein 'Monkey' 1st Survey Pre-Tests.” Billboard 8 Jun. 1946: 18.
  26. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 17 Jun. 1946: 19.
  27. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 12 Aug. 1946: 1.
  28. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand, New York.” Billboard 31 Aug. 1946: 42.
  29. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 15 Feb. 1947: 35.
  30. “Bob Crosby Draws Okay 20G at Circle.” Billboard 5 Apr. 1947: 41.
  31. “On the Stand: Tommy Dorsey.” Billboard 31 May 1947: 23.
  32. “Name Sidemen in Dorsey's New Band.” Down Beat 4 Jun. 1947: 20.
  33. “New Coast Plattery Set.” Down Beat 22 Oct. 1947: 8.
  34. “TD On Stage At Capitol.” Down Beat 31 Dec. 1947: 19.
  35. “Vaudeville Reviews: Capitol, New York.” Billboard 3 Jan. 1948: 35.
  36. “Music as Written.” Billboard 15 May 1948: 36.
  37. “On the Stand: Tommy Dorsey.” Billboard 9 Oct. 1948: 40.
  38. “News-Features.” Down Beat 21 Oct. 1948: 13.
  39. “Carle To Follow TD Into Pennsy.” Billboard 13 Nov. 1948: 46.
  40. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 17 Nov. 1948: 5.
  41. “Record Reviews.” Down Beat 22 Apr. 1949: 15.
  42. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 23 Sep. 1949: 5.
  43. “Lucy Ann Polk Inks Bluebird Disk Pact.” Billboard 5 Nov. 1949: 45.
  44. “Add Lucy Ann Polk To Bluebird Stable.” Down Beat 16 Dec. 1949: 8.
  45. “Les Brown Ork Hits Road For Summer.” Down Beat 30 Jun. 1950: 7.
  46. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 23 Mar. 1951: 5.
  47. “Kenton, Shearing Victors Again.” Down Beat 28 Dec. 1951: 1.
  48. Holly, Hal. “Lucy Ann Not Interested In Offers To Do A Single.” Down Beat 11 Jan. 1952: 6.
  49. “Final Results of 1952 Poll.” Down Beat 31 Dec. 1952: 19.
  50. “Sidemen Switches.” Down Beat 25 Feb. 1953: 5.
  51. “Jo Ann Greer To Les Brown.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1953: 1.
  52. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 16 Dec. 1953: 22.
  53. “Trend To Wax Lucy Ann Polk.” Down Beat 30 Dec. 1953: 1.
  54. “Hollywood Telenotes.” Down Beat 11 Aug. 1953: 5.
  55. “Popular Records.” Down Beat 7 Apr. 1954: 11.
  56. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 28 Jul. 1954: 3.
  57. “Sinatra Grabs Two '54 Poll Spots.” Down Beat 29 Dec. 1954: 1.
  58. “The Les Brown Ork.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1955: 9.
  59. “NBC Inks Wesson, Polk to Contract.” Billboard 30 Jun. 1956: 2.
  60. “Music in Review.” Down Beat 13 Jun. 1957: 21.
  61. Tynan, John. “Lucky Lucy Ann.” Down Beat 6 Feb. 1958: 19, 36, 37.
  62. “Music in Review.” Down Beat 6 Feb. 1958: 21.
  63. Advertisement. “Interlude Records.” Down Beat 11 Jun. 1959: 25.
  64. “Deaths.” Billboard 12 Sep. 1981: 84.