Singer Pat Cameron had only minor success as a big band vocalist before finally hitting her stride in the mid-1950s as a jazz artist under a new name. Her first big break came early in 1944 when she joined Sonny Dunham’s orchestra, where she replaced Dorothy Claire. She remained with Dunham through at least mid-1944. By November she had become staff vocalist at WCAU in Philadelphia.
While with Dunham, Cameron met fellow vocalist Billy Usher, and the two married late in 1944. In early September 1945, Cameron, identified only as Usher’s wife, was attacked by a “crazed veteran” who “tried to kill her,” according to gossip columnist Dorothy Kilgallen. She “narrowly escaped with her life.”
At the beginning of 1946, Cameron joined her husband in Randy Brooks’ band. They both left by March. In mid-1946, she and Usher became part of George “Pee Wee” Erwin’s new outfit, where they spent two months in rehearsals. Erwin had no plans to tour with the band, intending it to supplement his recording and other work around the New York area.
In 1949, Cameron was expecting a child in October. During 1951, she sang solo in new York clubs, but by 1952 she had become a fixture in Atlantic City. She signed with the BBS label that year, making her first recording, “Give Me, Give Me, Give Me.”
In 1956, Cameron changed her professional name to Milli Vernon and released a jazz album on the Storyville label, her first LP. Introducing Milli Vernon received positive reviews and propelled her into the ranks of the era’s popular jazz singers. She recorded on the Argo label in 1959, and in 1962 Duke Ellington chose her to sing with his orchestra in a series of concerts. Vernon made her only known television appearance on The Merv Griffin show that year as well. She recorded on the Colpix label in 1963.
Vernon continued to sing and perform through at least 1970. Columnist Walter Winchell once referred to her as the protégée of tobacco heir L. Lorillard, though it’s unknown what part Lorillard might have played in Vernon’s career.
Milli Vernon’s name is often misspelled “Millie” Vernon, especially on modern re-issues. “Milli” is the spelling used on her original record releases in the 1950s and 1960s. ↩︎