Mary Ann McCall

Photo of Mary Ann McCall

A jazz vo­cal­ist with a bluesy tone, Mary Ann McCall rarely stayed any­where for very long. She landed her first band job in­aus­pi­ciously with Tommy Dorsey in January 1939. When Dorsey singer Edythe Wright an­nounced she was leav­ing the or­ches­tra to get mar­ried, Dorsey se­lected the un­known McCall, then singing in her home­town of Philadelphia, as Wright’s re­place­ment. McCall’s tenure with the band lasted ex­actly one night.

Opening at a the­ater in Hartford, Connecticut, some re­ports at the time said McCall was booed off the stage, with the au­di­ence de­mand­ing Wright’s re­turn. The real story, how­ever, in­volved a con­tract dis­pute. Dorsey’s con­tract with the the­ater spec­i­fied that the pop­u­lar and well-known Wright was to ap­pear, and when she did­n’t the the­ater man­ager pressed the term. McCall was out, and Wright re­turned the next night, say­ing she was only on va­ca­tion and had­n’t re­ally left the band. Some in the trade press sug­gested it may have all been a pub­lic­ity stunt on Wright’s part.

Whatever the cir­cum­stances re­volv­ing around McCall’s time with Dorsey, the at­ten­tion she re­ceived from the in­ci­dent worked in her fa­vor, and she quickly landed a job with Woody Herman. By December, she’d joined Charlie Barnets or­ches­tra, where she re­mained un­til June 1940. According to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Barnet’s band at the time, McCall was put on no­tice so that Barnet could bring in singer Harriet Clark to re­place her. McCall took ex­cep­tion with that re­port, head­lined Bounced by Barnet” in Down Beat mag­a­zine with her pic­ture promi­nently dis­played un­der­neath it. She wrote a let­ter to the ed­i­tors, which they pub­lished, stat­ing that she had­n’t been put on no­tice. According to McCall, she’d heard ru­mors that Barnet was seen around town with Clark and asked him if she should be con­cerned. He told her not to be, but she soon dis­cov­ered that he’d lied to her and in­tended to re­place her. McCall said she was the one who gave no­tice upon learn­ing the truth.

After leav­ing Barnet, McCall joined Herbie Woods and his or­ches­tra. By the first of August, though, she was on her own. She opened at Buffalo’s Century Theater on August 9th, set for a buildup by New York ra­dio sta­tion WOR, part of the Mutual net­work. Bluebird, Barnet’s la­bel, showed in­ter­est in sign­ing her but noth­ing came of it, and her at­tempt at a solo ca­reer fiz­zled.

Also that August, McCall tipped Down Beat that she would marry Jimmy Dorsey in a cou­ple of months—not the fa­mous band­leader but an old ac­quain­tance of hers from her home­town whom she had met again while singing with Woods. This Jimmy Dorsey was an avi­a­tor. A gos­sip colum­nist at the time, though, re­ported that she was mar­ry­ing Jimmy Dorsey trum­pet player Jimmy Blake.

In September 1940, McCall joined Tommy Reynolds’ or­ches­tra, leav­ing in April 1941 to re­turn to Barnet. By mid-1941, though, she had dis­ap­peared from the lime­light, prompt­ing Down Beat to put her name in their monthly Where Is?” col­umn. The an­swer was Philadelphia, where she ap­peared on ra­dio sta­tion WCAU in August 1942 and in October joined Billy Marshall’s so­ci­ety or­ches­tra at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel. She left Marshall in early March 1943 to sing with Reynolds again but by the end of the month she’d re­joined Barnet, who’d just or­ga­nized a new band, where she ini­tially shared fe­male vo­cal­ist du­ties with Dell Parker. She re­mained with Barnet un­til at least July but was sin­gle again in September when it was ru­mored that Charlie Spivak had made her an of­fer. She re­joined Barnet once again in November when Virginia Maxey left. Barnet and McCall both ap­peared on the cover of Down Beats Christmas is­sue in a posed photo of Barnet stuff­ing war bonds down McCall’s stock­ings while she was wear­ing them.

By January 1944, McCall was back on her own, singing in the­aters. She had suf­fi­ciently dis­ap­peared by September that Down Beat once again asked where she was. She reap­peared in February 1945 as part of Lew Gray’s or­ches­tra in Los Angeles, and in mid-1946 she was with Allyn Cassel’s band. In late 1946, she joined Herman’s Herd once again. She left in early 1947, re­main­ing with Herman’s Columbia la­bel as part of their in­crease in pop­u­lar jazz wax­ings, where she of­ten worked with the Ralph Burns Orchestra. In early 1948, she re­turned to Herman’s band, stay­ing into mid-1949. That year, she over­whelm­ingly topped Down Beats poll for best fe­male band vo­cal­ist. While still a mem­ber of the Herd in early 1949 she also recorded solo on the Discovery la­bel.

McCall mar­ried Herman tenor sax player and arranger Al Cohn in 1949. In 1949 and into the early 1950s, she recorded sev­eral al­bums un­der her own name, work­ing with such artists as Charlie Ventura, Teddy Charles, the Phil Moore Orchestra, and the Ernie Wilkins Orchestra. She de­vel­oped a se­ri­ous heroin habit in 1949, even­tu­ally los­ing her home be­fore be­ing ar­rested in San Francisco on pos­ses­sion of nar­cotics in 1953.

McCall re­tired from the mu­sic busi­ness in the 1960s as work be­come more spo­radic. In 1987, she came out of re­tire­ment to per­form at a Woody Herman trib­ute con­cert just a few days be­fore the band­lead­er’s death. Mary Ann McCall passed away in 1994, age 75.

Music

Previous <<
Play > Pause ||
Next >>
0:00 / 0:00
Select a song to play
Play All
  • Big Wig in the Wigwam
    Woody Herman (Mary Ann McCall), Decca (1939)
  • It's a Wonderful World
    Charlie Barnet (Mary Ann McCall), Bluebird (1940)
  • Where Was I?
    Charlie Barnet (Mary Ann McCall), Bluebird (1940)
  • You Got Me Voodoo'd
    Charlie Barnet (Mary Ann McCall), Bluebird (1940)
  • You Can Depend on Me
    Mary Ann McCall, Regent (1956)

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

Films

Select a video to play
  • Screenshot
    "After You've Gone"
    Mary Ann McCall
    (1962)

We embed media from YouTube and the Internet Archive. Items may disappear on those services without notice. If you run across something that's no longer available, please let us know so we can remove the embed.

Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Edythe Wright Rejoins Dorsey After 'Vacation'.” Down Beat Feb. 1939: 2.
  3. “Here's The True Story Of The McCall-Wright Mixup in Hartford.” Down Beat Mar. 1939: 2.
  4. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 29 Jul. 1939: 20.
  5. “Movie Views and Reviews.” Reading Eagle [Reading, PA] 22 Sep. 1939: 21.
  6. “The Reviewing Stand: Woody Herman.” Billboard 9 Dec. 1939: 12.
  7. Hendrickson, Verna. “Dorothy Maynor Recording Made.” Berkeley Daily Gazette 19 Dec. 1939: 8.
  8. “Bounced by Barnet.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1940: 2.
  9. “Wildwood Spot Cuts Former Name Policy.” Billboard 13 Jul. 1940: 15.
  10. “Talent and Tunes On Music Machines.” Billboard 27 Jul. 1940: 84.
  11. “'Barnet Didn't Fire Me,' Says Ex-Vocalist” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1940: 3.
  12. “Vaudeville Reviews: Century, Buffalo.” Billboard 10 Aug. 1940: 22.
  13. “Talent and Tunes On Music Machines.” Billboard 10 Aug. 1940: 73.
  14. “Mary Ann McCall Out On Her Own.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1940: 19.
  15. “Jimmy Dorsey And Mary Ann McCall to Wed.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1940: 21.
  16. “Mary Ann McCall With Reynolds.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1940: 2.
  17. Fidler, Jimmie. “Hollywood Shots.” Reading Eagle [Reading, PA] 27 Nov. 1940: 6.
  18. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 19 Apr. 1941: 12.
  19. “Where Is?” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1942: 17.
  20. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 29 Aug. 1942: 27.
  21. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 31 Oct. 1942: 23.
  22. “Night Club Reviews.” Billboard 14 Nov. 1942: 12.
  23. “Bands Play Two Philly Theaters.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1942: 34.
  24. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 6 Mar. 1943: 23.
  25. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 27 Mar. 1943: 23.
  26. “Barnet Using Two Canaries.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1943: 2.
  27. “Bands Dug by the Beat: Charlie Barnet.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1943: 12.
  28. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1943: 5.
  29. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1943: 5.
  30. “Gives Present With a Future.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1943: 1.
  31. Kardale, Chick. “Along Chicago's Melody Row.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1944: 12.
  32. “Where Is?” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1944: 10.
  33. Holly, Hal. “Los Angeles Band Briefs.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1945: 6.
  34. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 16 Nov. 1946: 27.
  35. “Col's Pop Jazz to Use Cab Ork.” Billboard 26 Apr. 1947: 19.
  36. “On the Stand: Woody Herman.” Billboard 8 May. 1948: 44.
  37. “Music as Written.” Billboard 22 Jan. 1949: 20.
  38. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 5 Feb. 1949: 34.
  39. “Herman Outfit to Play at Nat.” Spokane Daily Chronicle 24 Aug. 1949: 16.
  40. “Girl Singer—With Band.” Down Beat 30 Dec. 1949: 12.
  41. “Torch Singer Says Reach for Gun Instead of Heroin.” The Telegraph [Nashua, NH] 6 May 1953: 1.