Nita Bradley

Vocalist Nita Bradley is best remembered for her work in the late 1930s with Artie Shaw’s band, where she shared the stage with Billie Holiday, and for her time with Charlie Barnet’s orchestra in the early 1940s.

Nothing is known of Bradley’s early career prior to first joining Shaw in late 1937. She stayed only briefly, leaving the band in March 1938, replaced by Holiday. Holiday was already a big star at the time, and her hiring was a promotional win for Shaw. Holiday’s presence in the band, though, was problematic for many reasons. While she wasn’t the first black singer with a white band, she was among the very few, and Shaw was forced to rehire Bradley to meet contractual obligations at clubs and theaters that wouldn’t allow African-American artists on stage. Shaw also needed Bradley for the studio. Holiday was signed to the Brunswick label, who refused to let her record on Bluebird with Shaw. Bradley had rejoined Shaw by June but left the band again by November, with Shaw hiring a then unknown Helen Forrest to replace her.

Bradley married Shaw drummer Cliff Leeman and had given birth to a son by July 1940. After her marriage, she semi-retired, often traveling around with her husband, who became part of Tommy Dorsey’s band in September 1939. Leeman joined Barnet in November of that year. In September 1940, Bradley sang with Bobby Hackett’s band at Nick’s jazz club in New York.

In August 1941, Leeman and Bradley found themselves in trouble with the law in Los Angeles after Lloyd Hundling, a member of Barnet vocal group the Quintones, failed to make a stop while driving and ran into a truck carrying workmen, killing his passenger, noted Barnet guitarist Anthony ‘Bus’ Etri, and critically injuring Hundling himself. The driver of the truck reportedly died as well. Hundling was taken to Los Angeles General Hospital, where he went into surgery and was given very little chance to recover. He passed away a week later in the hospital’s prison ward. Only minutes before the accident, Hundling had received a citation for speeding, and when police searched the car and the two men at the scene, they found “reefers” in both Hundling’s and Ezri’s pockets. Officers went to the house where the pair were staying, which they shared with Leeman and Bradley. A search found a “quantity” of marijuana, including a reefer in the pocket of a shirt owned by Leeman. Both Leeman and Bradley were arrested. They were later cleared.

In September 1942, Bradley took over as female vocalist for Barnet’s orchestra after Frances Wayne left the band. Bradley only planned to fill in until Barnet could hire another singer. Within a two-week span Barnet went through both Dell Parker and Perry Russell before Bradley ended up with the job permanently. She remained as vocalist with the orchestra until early 1943, when Barnet disbanded to take a rest.

After Barnet’s orchestra broke up, Leeman went to work for Johnny Long’s band in Chicago. Reports soon after had Bradley and Leeman separating, with Bradley taking their child and heading to Hollywood for picture work. What picture work she did, if any, is unknown. She and Leeman eventually reconciled. In February 1944, Bradley sang with Lee Castle’s band, and in October of that year Leeman announced that he was forming his own orchestra, with Bradley as vocalist.

Bradley recorded only with Shaw in the 1930s, with the exception of one recording with Teddy McRae and his Zanzibar Orchestra in December 1945.


  1. “Billie Holiday Wins by Just Keeping on Singing.” The Baltimore Afro-American 18 Jun. 1938: 11.
  2. “Barnet Set for 24G.” Source 19 Sep. 1942: 19.
  3. “Orchestra Notes.” Source 26 Sep. 1942: 21.
  4. Toll, Ted. “Who's Who in Music: Charlie Barnet's Band.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1940: 12.
  5. “New Men With Bobby Hackett.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1940: 23.
  6. “Crash Kills 'Bus' Etri, Barnet Guitar.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1941: 4.
  7. “Hundling 2nd Tragedy in Coast Crash.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1941: 1.
  8. “Leemans Plead 'Not Guilty' To Gov't Marihuana Charge.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1941: 1.
  9. “Nita Bradley Joins Barnet.” Source 1 Oct. 1942: 16.
  10. “Orchestra Notes.” Source 3 Oct. 1942: 23.
  11. “Vaudeville Reviews: State, Hartford.” Billboard 10 Oct. 1942: 16.
  12. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 28 Nov. 1942: 16.
  13. “Barnet Settles Billy Shaw.” Source 15 Dec. 1942: 4.
  14. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Source 1 Apr. 1943: 4.
  15. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Source 15 Feb. 1944: 5.
  16. “Music Grapevine.” Source 7 Oct. 1944: 20.
  17. “Baton Bug Bites Tubman Leeman.” Source 15 Oct. 1944: 1.