A native of Columbus Junction, Iowa, and the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, Meredith Blake graduated from Virginia Intermont College before attending the University of Wisconsin. Aspiring to be an actress, Blake appeared in university drama productions and on Madison radio station WHA. She also possessed a fine singing voice and regularly performed at the city’s Club Chanticleer. Leaving Madison for New York in 1938, she changed her mind about becoming a vocalist after supposedly receiving offers from Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw.
Blake’s first job on the bandstand was with Jack Teagarden’s new orchestra, launched in early 1939. Blake stayed with the trombonist through at least April, appearing on the band’s radio program. While with Teagarden, she asked permission to sing and plug a tune, “Darling, You Weren’t There,” written by her brother, Charles Balcoff. The affable Teagarden agreed. The song went nowhere, and when she left the band Teagarden discarded it from his book. The following year, Charles, by that time a graduate of the University of Wisconsin’s law school who worked in the legal research department for music publisher BMI, sued Teagarden for infringement, asking $5,000 for each performance of the tune. Balcoff had never published the song but still held the copyright. Nothing came of the suit.
By June 1939, Blake was with Ruby Newman. She also sang with Don Bestor before joining fellow Iowan Jack Jenney later that year, staying through at least January 1940. By April, she had joined Gray Gordon. Gordon, who played pure corn, was well-known and well-kidded for his “tic-toc” rhythm. Blake remained with the band for more than a year, making two soundies with them, “Scrub Me Mama to a Boogie Beat” and “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar.”
By Spring 1941, Gordon had grown tired of his tic-toc rhythm, and he scrapped the orchestra, forming an all-new jump band in its place. Blake stayed on as vocalist. The new group attracted much attention and broke attendance records in its early engagements. Gordon, however, was deeply in debt, and in July, after the orchestra completed an engagement in Atlantic City, he suddenly disbanded and fled to Illinois, leaving band members, including Blake, stranded without pay or transportation back to New York.
In August, after the members of Gordon’s now-defunct orchestra had made their way home, Blake joined Mitchell Ayres, replacing Mary Ann Mercer. She remained with Ayres until October 1942 when she left to do radio work. Paramount also signed her for a musical short. In June 1943, Blake married Alfred Preston Jump, a third officer on sea duty with the Army Transportation Corps.
By August 1943, Blake had joined Shep Fields, where she stayed for the next three years. She was featured on Field’s radio programs on CBS, NBC Blue and the Mutual Network and made a number of recordings with the band. In summer 1944, she took time off to recover from an appendectomy, and in August of that year she appeared on Margaret Arlen’s CBS television interview program. In late 1945, she traveled overseas with the orchestra. She remained with the band through at least mid-1946, retiring some time after that.
In August 1951, Blake gave birth to a son. Her husband, now a civilian, was captain of the passenger vessel Alcon Cavalier.
Virginia Intermont College was, at the time, a two-year private college for women located in Bristol, Virginia. The college later became co-ed and began to offer four-year degrees before closing in 2014. ↩︎
Gordon was quickly suspended by the union and sued by his agency, to which he owed $10,000 in order to buy out his contract. His lawyer announced that he was attempting to put together enough money to pay off the agency and his band members. ↩︎