Vocalist Peggy Mann sang for a series of orchestras from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s, though she’s probably best remembered today for the single recording she made with Benny Goodman’s quintet in 1944. Well-liked by critics and audiences, Mann maintained a solid career until the late 1940s. Like many other singers of her era, she was unable to adjust to the changing styles of the post-band period, and she semi-retired in 1949. A comeback attempt in 1953 kept her active through at least the late 1950s.
According to Mann’s bio, widely circulated in early 1942, she was a native of Yonkers, New York, and was regarded as a “great child dancing star” in her early years. After graduating high school, she registered with Smith College but then decided to forego higher education to study “voice culture.” When bandleader Ben Pollack was in need of a new female vocalist, her singing teacher recommended her, and she won the job after an audition in late summer 1937.
Mann’s bio, however, stretched the truth in an attempt to make her appear two years younger. She was quite active even before joining Pollack’s band. In February 1935, she sang with Harry Wearne and His Blue Lions, and in mid-1935 she had her own fifteen-minute radio show on the Mutual Network. By January 1937, she was with Henry Halstead’s orchestra, where she reportedly received many offers from “top bands” but declined them to stay with Halstead, which she did through at least July of that year. By September, she was with Pollack, making her first recordings that same month.
Rise in Popularity
How long Mann remained with Pollack is unknown, as she has no recorded activity with his band other than September 1937. She later sang with Johnny Johnson’s orchestra before joining Enoch Light at the Hotel Taft in Manhattan at some point prior to November 1938. With Light, she began to make a name for herself, thanks in part to the band’s regular CBS broadcasts. She stayed with Light’s orchestra through at least March 1940, when he finally grew tired of working in the same location night after night and took his band on the road for the first time in two years.
In September 1940, Mann joined Larry Clinton’s orchestra, where she replaced Helen Southern. Singing with Clinton further raised her profile, especially with the younger swing crowd, and she began to be noticed by the press. She remained with Clinton until November 1941 when the leader took a two-week vacation to Bermuda, during which time he didn’t pay his musicians and singers. He lost about half his band, including Mann, who left to join Teddy Powell.
Mann continued to prove popular with Powell’s band. Powell liked to swing but focused mostly on the hotel circuit, where he had to restrain his tendency to play loud and fast, which matched well with Mann’s style. Mann apparently was happy with the band. In April 1942, she signed a two-year contract. While with the group, in January 1943, she married baritone sax player Larry Molinelli, who was then in the navy, playing with Saxie Dowell’s band at Norfolk, Virginia. When her contract with Powell was up in early 1944, she considered leaving but decided to remain. She and Powell made the cover of Down Beat magazine together for March 15, 1944.
Mann finally left Powell at the end of June 1944 to join Gene Krupa, who had recently organized a new band which included strings, much to the dismay of his earlier fans. The new group struggled, making some disappointing recordings, and Mann left in October to do radio work, starting that month on the NBC program The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street, which unfortunately went off the air soon after. Mann was not without work however. Artie Shaw reportedly tried to hire her for his new band, but she turned him down. In December, Columbia Records signed Mann to a contract so that she could record one song with Benny Goodman’s quintet. The label also planned to build her up as a solo artist, sending her to Philadelphia to sing with Johnny Warrington’s band on its popular national broadcasts, though she ultimately did not make any other recordings for Columbia. As part of the build-up, Mann made the cover of Down Beat again on January 15, 1945.
At some point around the beginning of 1945, Mann became the stand-in for Joan Edwards on the popular Hit Parade radio program. When Edwards began having trouble with her voice later that year, Mann took over. When Edwards finally returned, still not completely recovered, Mann was required to be present at each broadcast so that she could quickly step in if Edwards couldn’t continue.
Mann’s presence on the Hit Parade show gave her an added publicity boost. In mid-1945, Orpheus Records signed her to sing with Henry King’s orchestra on an early long-playing record, a twelve-inch disc with multiple songs on each side. In November, RCA Victor signed Mann to sing on an album of songs from the Broadway musical Show Boat, backed by Tommy Dorsey’s band. In January 1946, she recorded with Ray McKinley’s orchestra on Majestic. She made a Soundie in early 1946 featuring one of her popular Hit Parade songs, “Oh! What It Seemed to Be.” In spring 1946, she joined the RCA Victor show Swing vs. Classics.
After taking time off from radio work in mid-1946 for unspecified reasons, Mann returned to the airwaves in August, appearing as a guest on several programs and once again standing in for Edwards on Hit Parade when Edwards went to Hollywood for picture work. When Edwards returned in October, she and Mann shared female vocal duties. Mann became a regular on Frank Sinatra’s radio show later that year and toured theaters in early 1947. She also appeared on Andy Russell’s radio program.
Continuing to tour in 1948, Mann sometimes teamed up with Del Courtney’s orchestra, beginning a long association with the bandleader. In 1948, she recorded on Victor with both Russ Case and Eddie Heywood. Her career began to fade as the decade grew towards a close however. An early 1949 review of Mann’s performance at New York’s Paramount Theater described her material as old-fashioned. She semi-retired not long after, moving to San Francisco, where she performed locally with Courtney, with whom she may have been romantically linked. She also appeared on local television during the early 1950s.
In early 1953, Mann recorded with Courtney’s orchestra on the Cavalier label and then signed with Coral as a solo artist, making a comeback attempt. Her recordings failed to catch the public’s ear, and she only sporadically appears in the press beyond that point. In 1955, she made a guest appearance on Johnny Desmond’s radio program, and in 1957 she recorded the album Music for Going Steady with Vic Damone on the Hollywood label. She then disappears from history.
Mann reportedly had the unusual hobby of collecting stage money. She possessed several million dollars worth of fake script used in film and theater productions.