Charlie Spivak

Photo of Charlie Spivak

Bandleader and trumpet player Charlie Spivak led one of the most successful commercial orchestras of the early 1940s. Best remembered today for vocalist June Hutton and the Stardusters vocal quartet, the band reached its pinnacle of popularity during the war years but by the late 1940s had become much less relevant.

Born in 1907 in the Ukraine, Spivak came to the United States with his parents in 1910. The family settled in Connecticut,[1] where Spivak studied violin and trumpet and began working with local groups as a teen. In 1924, he became part of Phil Sprecht’s band, remaining with Sprecht until 1930. Spivak joined Ben Pollack in 1931, leaving in late 1934 for the Dorsey Brothers. He joined Ray Noble the following spring. During 1936 and 1937, he worked mainly as a studio musician, including stints with Gus Arnheim, Vincent Lopez, Red Nichols, Glenn Miller, and Raymond Scott’s radio orchestra. He joined Bob Crosby in January of 1938, staying until August when he went to work for Tommy Dorsey. He left Dorsey at the first of 1939 for Jack Teagarden’s new band.

Early Band

In fall 1939, encouraged by Miller, Spivak decided to form an orchestra of his own. He exited from Teagarden’s group in November and went home to St. Paul, Minnesota, where his wife and child resided. Securing a booking agent, he put together a band composed of local musicians and began to rehearse. Before the group could get off the ground, however, the agent dropped them, and Spivak headed to New York, where he put together a new band at the beginning of 1940. The new orchestra made its debut that spring, with Frank Howard as vocalist. In November, they signed with Columbia Records.

Despite his past work with some of the top jazz groups of the day, Spivak’s orchestra played it straight, focusing on ballads and popular numbers and relying heavily on vocalists. In the band’s early days, Spivak, known as “Cheery, Chubby Charlie,” played his trumpet with a mute, trying to project a softer tone. He later switched to playing open trumpet, for which he received great critical acclaim. He was one of the better trumpet players of the era, though he was undoubtedly overshadowed by Harry James. He never completely gave up his mute, however, until later in his career.

Spivak’s orchestra went through numerous changes during its first year before finally hitting on the right formula in February 1941. After a major reorganization that month, the band soon began to receive major attention. Howard was dropped, and Spivak brought in two new vocalists, Garry Stevens and Kitty McLane.[2] Guitarist Kenny White sang novelty songs.

McLane didn’t stay long, and the band went through several attempts at finding the right female vocalist. Ginger Maylen, described by Billboard as a “screwball type” was singer in March and April, and in June the band featured the Three Debs.[3] By September, the Debs had left, and Spivak had brought in the Stardusters quartet, which featured June Hutton, who finally settled into the solo female vocalist spot in addition to her duties with the vocal group. Betty Bonney reportedly sang with Spivak at some point before May 1945, and early 1941 is the most likely period given both Bonney’s and Spivak’s history. Gloria McGhee was also vocalist in the early band.

Stevens briefly left the band in late 1942 when he enlisted in the Army Air Force. Receiving a five-month deferment, he returned in December, planning to remain until his deferment ended. He was gone by late March 1943. Leonard Lane took over male vocalist duties in early June. He had left the band by September. Spivak put the Stardusters on notice that same month, and the group quit rather than stay. Spivak brought in former Gene Krupa vocalist Irene Daye to replace Hutton. Dick Baldwin became male vocalist in December. Singer Jimmy Saunders took his place in February 1944. The band switched to the Victor label in 1943 but didn’t start recording again until after the American Federation of Musician’s recording ban ended in November 1944. Spivak’s orchestra became one of the most popular in the nation during the early 1940s, placing third in Down Beat magazine’s poll for best sweet band in 1942, second in 1943, first in 1944, and second in 1945.

Post-War Band and Later Career

Spivak’s orchestra began to decline in popularity during the post-war period. When Daye left to go solo in September 1945, Spivak didn’t immediately try to replace her. It wasn’t until late December that he brought in female voices again, hiring the McCall Sisters, a Detroit-area quartet, after seeing them at a USO show in Louisville. Spivak renamed them the Stardreamers. By November 1946, however, the McCall Sisters had left and the Stardreamers were a quintet composed of three men and two women.[4] The quintet was released from the band the following month, with no new group hired in their place.

In October 1946, Spivak gave Saunders two-weeks notice after a backstage flare-up at the Paramount Theater in New York. Tommy Mercer replaced him. Mercer remained the band’s sole vocalist after the Stardreamers left, aside from trombonist Rusty Nichols, who handled novelty songs, until mid-1947, when Daye returned. Tommy Lynn was male vocalist in 1949, when a revived Stardreamers also sang. Daye remained as vocalist until January 1950, when she and Spivak married, after which time she semi-retired from singing. The band began to record on London Records in 1949.

Spivak continued leading his band until the late 1950s. He then moved to Florida, where he formed another band which remained active until 1963, when illness forced him to briefly retire. After recovering, he led bands in Las Vegas and Miami. In 1967, he organized a small outfit that played regularly at the Ye Olde Fireplace restaurant in Greenville, South Carolina, with Daye as vocalist. Daye battled cancer during the last years of her life, finally losing that battle in 1971. Spivak remained at the restaurant up until his death in 1982. In his last few years, he led a new seventeen-piece orchestra.


  1. Spivak often gave his birthplace as New Haven, Connecticut. ↩︎

  2. Stevens was also a trumpet player and filled in with the band as needed. ↩︎

  3. For an unknown reason, the Three Debs were billed on the band’s Columbia recordings with the unwieldy name of “Alma Jean, Betty Jane & Bette Lee.” ↩︎

  4. The Stardreamers in November 1946 consisted of Margaret Manning, Naomi Mann, Frank Pine, George Carr, and Chick Gallico. ↩︎

Vocalist Timeline

Kitty McLane
Ginger Maylen
The Three Debs
Leonard Lane
Dick Baldwin
Tommy Mercer

Note: Dates may be approximate. Some vocalists may not be listed due to lack of information on their dates of employment.


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “June Hutton.” IMDb. Accessed 27 Dec. 2015.
  3. Becker, R. Whitney. “Jack Teagarden's New Orchestra is Comprised Only Of P.T. Musicians!!” Down Beat Mar. 1939: 4.
  4. “Who's Who in Music: Presenting Jack Teagarden's Band.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1939: 13.
  5. Lang, Don. “New Spivak Ork Is Coming On.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1939: 24.
  6. “Reveals His Band.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1940: 1.
  7. “Spivak Gets First Date in Cincy.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1940: 1.
  8. Zatt, Sol. “Music in the Air.” Billboard 20 Apr. 1940: 12.
  9. Spivak, Charlie. “No Hot Solos for My Band.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1940: 9.
  10. “Who's on What in Charlie Spivak's New Band.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1940: 3.
  11. Lang, Don. “Kay Green's 'Illusions' Disappear.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1940: 20.
  12. “Spivak on Wax.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1940: 1.
  13. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 8 Feb. 1941: 13.
  14. “Purge Hits The Charlie Spivak Band.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1941: 1.
  15. “On the Stand: Charlie Spivak.” Billboard 1 Mar. 1941: 12.
  16. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand, New York.” Billboard 29 Mar. 1941: 22.
  17. “Vocal Groups New Band Style Trend.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1941: 5.
  18. “The Long and Short.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1941: 1.
  19. “On the Records.” Billboard 14 Mar. 1942: 74.
  20. “Prom.” The Concordiensis [Schenectady, NY] 31 Mar. 1942: 5.
  21. “Charlie Spivak's Beautiful Horn, Well-Paced Band Comes On.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1942: 2.
  22. “On the Stand: Charlie Spivak.” Billboard 29 Aug. 1942: 12.
  23. “Spivak Seeks Trumpet.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1942: 1.
  24. “Stevens to Air Corps.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1942: 17.
  25. “Profiling the Players: Charlie Spivak and His Orchestra.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1942: 31.
  26. “Gary Stevens is Back With Spivak for Nance.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1943: 19.
  27. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 3 Apr. 1943: 14.
  28. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 8 May 1943: 55.
  29. “Charlie Spivak Makes Changes.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1943: 1.
  30. “Bands Dug by the Beat: Charlie Spivak.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1943: 13.
  31. “Mal Hallett Follows Cab.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1943: 1.
  32. “Stardusters Put on Notice by Charlie Spivak.” Billboard 18 Sep. 1943: 5.
  33. “Stardusters Quit Spivak.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1943: 3.
  34. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1943: 5.
  35. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 16 Oct. 1943: 16.
  36. “Spivak Singer.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1943: 1.
  37. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1943: 4.
  38. “BG Crowned Kind Fifth Time.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1944: 1.
  39. “Name Orks Still Send Although Key Men Leave.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1944: 3.
  40. “Saunders With Spivak.” Billboard 19 Feb. 1944: 18.
  41. “Vaudeville Reviews: Earle, Philadelphia.” Billboard 11 Mar. 1944: 25.
  42. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 13 May 1944: 26.
  43. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1944: 4.
  44. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 26 Aug. 1944: 25.
  45. “Spivak Tops TD.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1945: 13.
  46. “Record Reviews: Betty Jane Bonney.” Billboard 19 May 1945: 27.
  47. “Irene Daye Is Singer in Spivak Orchestra.” The Montreal Gazette 18 Jun. 1945: 2.
  48. “Canary Hunt.” Billboard 22 Sep. 1945: 19.
  49. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1945: 1.
  50. “Spivak Inking McCall Sisters.” Billboard 5 Jan. 1946: 15.
  51. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 14 Sep. 1946: 42.
  52. “Music as Written: New York.” Billboard 26 Oct. 1946: 22.
  53. “Music as Written: New York.” Billboard 2 Nov. 1946: 30.
  54. “On the Stand: Charlie Spivak.” Billboard 9 Nov. 1946: 35.
  55. “Music as Written: New York.” Billboard 21 Dec. 1946: 30.
  56. Advertisement. “Charlie Spivak.” Down Beat 22 Oct. 1947: 5.
  57. Brown, Dorothy. “Sweetest Trumpet Was Child Violinist.” Down Beat 31 Dec. 1947: 14.
  58. “Night Club Reviews: Chase Club, St. Louis.” Billboard 6 Mar. 1948: 40.
  59. “Vaudeville Reviews: Capitol, New York.” Billboard 26 Feb. 1949: 49.
  60. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 10 Mar. 1950: 10.
  61. “Sidemen Switches.” Down Beat 5 May 1950: 6.
  62. Obituary. The Deseret News [Salt Lake City, UT] 3 Nov. 1971: 4A.