Louisiana-native Teddy Grace first sang with the bands of Al Katz and Tommy Christian before coming to prominence in early 1934 as vocalist for Mal Hallett’s orchestra. Grace emerged as the star of Hallett’s band, making a name for herself as a jazz singer with a bluesy voice. She left Hallett at some point after February 1935, tired from touring and needing a rest. She returned near the beginning of 1937, making her first recordings with the band on Decca early that year and appearing with them on radio. In December 1937, she was one of four Hallett band members injured in an auto wreck while traveling by car from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, when their vehicle crashed into a truck. She left Hallett soon after to focus on her solo career.
By the latter half of 1937, while still part of Hallett’s orchestra, Grace had begun to break out on her own, recording solo on Decca and singing on a weekly, 15-minute radio program. Over the next few years, she became Decca’s answer to Vocalion’s Mildred Bailey, the highly popular white jazz singer, with the two women often releasing the same material weeks or even days apart. Reviewers at the time typically compared Grace unfavorably to Bailey, though her recordings initially sold well.
Decca also teamed Grace with other artists, most notably Bob Crosby’s band, for whom she served as studio vocalist in the last half of 1939, though she did not perform on stage with them. Grace also served as vocalist for Milt Herth’s Trio and Lou Holden’s band. On her solo recordings, she worked with a number of well-known jazz musicians, including Jack Teagarden, Charlie Shavers, Dave Barbour, and Bud Freeman.
In the early 1940s, Grace lived in Forest Hills on Long Island, New York. Decca dropped her from the label in 1940, though she continued on the radio into early 1942. In early 1943, with her singing career basically over, she joined the Women’s Army Corps under her real name, Stella Maple. Posted to Camp Tyler in Sherman, Texas, she eventually rose to the rank of sergeant and was put in charge of all army recruiting in the city. As part of her duties, she performed at local recruitment shows, singing both praises of the army and old standards she had recorded, using her past fame as a publicity draw. According to later accounts, though not backed up by primary sources, she strained her voice during a war bond tour in 1944 and was never able to recover. In frustration, she turned to alcohol.
In mid-1944, Grace was stationed at Camp Chaffee in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Beyond that, she disappears from history for 47 years. Down Beat magazine asked her whereabouts three times, in 1947, 1950, and 1956. They received no replies. In late 1991, Grace was tracked down to a suburban Los Angeles nursing home. She passed away in January 1992 at the probable age of 81.
Bob Crosby’s band often had two female vocalists during this period, one for live performances and one for radio and recordings. ↩︎
Like many vocalists, Grace’s recording career has been muddied by time and poor scholarship. Contrary to many later sources, she did not sing with Jack Teagarden’s band. He simply played on some of her recordings. ↩︎
It’s unknown if Maple is her birth surname or if it was a married surname. ↩︎
Grace stated that she was twenty-six years old in an early 1937 interview. If she was truthful about her age, that would make her birth year either 1910 or very early 1911. ↩︎