Described as petite and baby-faced, Indianapolis native Virginia Maxey worked with multiple orchestras in the 1940s. Said to be the winner of more than a dozen beauty contests, Maxey was known for bouncing up and down while she sang. She experienced her moment of fame in 1948 when she appeared in Hollywood films and on network radio, but by the 1950s she had faded from the limelight.
Maxey sang with Dee Peterson’s territory orchestra in mid-1942 before getting her big break with Bobby Byrne’s band in October, where she replaced Dorothy Claire. Unfortunately, Byrne decided to accept a commission in the Army Air Force soon after she joined and turned over his group to Jack Jenney. It’s unknown if Maxey continued with the band under Jenney’s leadership.
In June 1943, Maxey joined Bob Allen’s orchestra, replacing Paula Kelly. She stayed with Allen until August, when she left for Charlie Barnet. She and Barnet “fell out” in November, and by January 1944 she was with Tony Pastor, where she finally found a stable home. Maxey quickly began to make a name for herself, attracting the attention of Hollywood. That summer she signed a seven-year contract with MGM, though nothing seemed to come of it. Rumors early in 1944 had her secretly married to Boyd Raeburn trombonist Bob Swift, which she denied.
Maxey remained with Pastor through at least October 1944. At the first of 1945, she joined George Paxton’s band but was released in February when Paxton was forced to cut expenses. By February 1946, she had rejoined Pastor, where she stayed through at least May.
In February 1947, Maxey appeared in a production called Sensations of '47 at the Elks Lodge in Charleston, West Virginia. By mid-March, she had joined Ziggy Elman’s band. Mid-year she subbed for Paula Kelly with the Modernaires when Kelly took time off to have a child. Upon Kelly’s return in late September, Maxey went out solo again. Her star brightened when Columbia Pictures signed her in December for the lead in the musical western Streets of Laredo. Paramount then signed her in early 1948, using her in two musical featurette productions, Big Sister Blues and Catalina Interlude, the latter with Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra. Down Beat magazine reported that she sang with Dorsey’s band in the 1948 Monogram picture Music Man, but if true her scenes were cut.
A film starlet now, Maxey attracted the attention of Bob Hope’s radio show, where she made several appearances starting in May. Touring around the West Coast, Maxey was billed as “Cute as a Kitten” and Hope’s “new singing discovery.” In mid-1948, she became part of Mel Tormé’s NBC summer television program, singing with the Mel-Tones. Later that year, she appeared on Abbott and Costello’s radio show.
Maxey continued to work as a single until early 1949 when she joined Georgie Auld’s new band, staying only briefly. Her star had begun to fade by that point. She spent the rest of 1949 touring in such auspicious locations as a Rotary Club event in Long Beach and the infamous Corn Palace in South Dakota. In early 1950, she joined the Pied Pipers vocal group after June Hutton quit to go solo. Maxey barely had time to say hello to the boys and take a promo picture, however, before the Pipers broke up. Also in 1950, MGM Records released previously held 1947 Ziggy Elman masters on which Maxey had sung. In 1951, she appeared with Bobby Troup’s trio in a television soundie, singing “Daddy.”
In 1953, Maxey married singer, pianist and comedian Matt Dennis, who was then appearing on Ernie Kovac’s daily NBC television program. She worked with Dennis throughout the rest of the 1950s, appearing as part of his lounge act and on his television show. Virginia Maxey passed away in 2016 at age 92.
One newspaper ad in February 1947 lists Maxey as Pastor’s vocalist, though this may be suspect. There are no press mentions of Maxey between April 1946 and February 1947, and reviews of Pastor shows during that time period fail to mention any female vocalists. This could have been an old ad reused. ↩︎