Dick Stabile

Photo of Dick Stabile

Saxophonist Dick Stabile made his name with Ben Bernie’s orchestra in the early 1930s before forming his own in the middle of that decade. Stabile’s first group tried hard but never found any meaningful success. Paula Kelly provided vocals for much of the 1930s, staying with the orchestra from April 1935 to February 1938. Stabile then went through a succession of singers, including Evelyn Oaks from at least November 1938 to March 1939, Wendy Bishop from April to at least June 1939, Alice O’Connell, big sister of Helen, in late 1939, and Shirley Gaye from February to at least November 1940. Kay Little sang from at least May to June 1941. The group recorded on the Bluebird and Vocalion labels.

In mid-1941, Stabile fired his manager, his arranger and most of his musicians and junked his entire musical library, forming a new orchestra. The bandleader took over management chores himself and hired Gene Hammett as arranger. “I simply got tired of having a so-so band for five years” he said. “This is the band I should have had years ago.” Stabile’s wife, Gracie Barrie, an established musical comedy star, filled the female vocal slot for the revamped band with Gordon Roberts as male vocalist. The new orchestra was well-received and quickly lined up network radio spots and a deal with the Okeh label.

When Stabile joined the Coast Guard in late 1942, Barrie, who was the sister of bandleader Dick Barrie, took over the orchestra under her own name. The group kept quite busy under her leadership, and she insisted that she’d stay at the helm for the duration of Stabile’s enlistment. She turned over the orchestra to vocalist Jimmy Palmer in early 1944, however, and restarted her own career again, divorcing Stabile later that year. The orchestra remained together under Stabile’s name, and he resumed leadership after the war. He’s best remembered today as the long-time musical director for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Vocalist Timeline

Evelyn Oaks
Alice O'Connell
Gracie Barrie

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. “Marriages.” Billboard 1 Jan. 1938: 124.
  3. “Paula and Dick Part.” The Pittsburgh Press 19 Mar. 1938: 6.
  4. “The Reviewing Stand: Dick Stabile.” Billboard 12 Nov. 1938: 13.
  5. “The Big Sister Steps In!” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1939: 1.
  6. “Orchestra Personnels: Dick Stabile's Ork.” Down Beat Apr. 1940: 20.
  7. Advertisement. The Sandusky Star-Journal [Sandusky, Ohio] 21 Apr. 1939: 9.
  8. Advertisement. Warren Times-Mirror [Warren, Pennsylvania] 21 Jun. 1939: 2.
  9. “Dick Stabile On the Cover.” Down Beat 15 May 1940: 2.
  10. Advertisement. The Cumberland Evening Times [Cumberland, Maryland] 2 Nov. 1940: 16.
  11. “Vaudeville Reviews: Loew's State, New York.” Billboard 24 May 1941: 22.
  12. “Gracie Barrie To Join Hubby Dick Stabile as Ork's Canary.” Billboard 30 Aug. 1941: 15.
  13. “Stabile Stages Blitz!.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1941: 2.
  14. “Stabile Band May Switch From MCA to GAC; Mrs. as Front.” Billboard 12 Dec. 1942: 21.
  15. “Music in the News.” Billboard 2 Oct. 1943: 67.
  16. “Vocalist Takes Over.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1944: 9.
  17. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1944: 5.