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.


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  • 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)

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    "After You've Gone"
    Mary Ann McCall

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  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.