The half-sister of singer June Hutton, Ina Ray Hutton was the most prominent female leader during the big band era. She gained notoriety during the 1930s for both her music and her seductive stage persona, earning her the nickname “Blonde Bombshell of Rhythm.”
Ina Ray began singing and dancing at the age of eight. During the early 1930s, she appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies and the George White Scandals and in 1934 was asked to front an all-girl orchestra, the Melodears, with which she appeared in several Paramount musical shorts. The group achieved some popularity, mainly as a novelty act. It disbanded in 1939. June Hutton sang with the outfit under the name Elaine Merritt.
In 1940, Ina Ray changed her hair color and formed an all-male orchestra. Though her new outfit was quite talented, it was her seductive swaying and dancing on stage that helped gain the group a following. Sax player and arranger George Paxton, to whom Ina Ray had reportedly offered fifty percent of her profits to join the band, played a large part in the orchestra’s success, becoming musical director and de facto leader until he left to form his own group in May 1944. Standout musicians included guitarist Jack Purcell and pianist Hal Schaefer. Stuart Foster served as male vocalist. The Kim Loo Sisters, a vocal trio, also sang.
In 1944, Ina Ray starred in the Columbia production Ever Since Venus, her only major film role. She temporarily disbanded her orchestra in August 1944, citing a need to rest, but was back on the bandstand in December, where she stayed until permanently disbanding in December 1946. She later formed a new all-girl orchestra which appeared on a regional television program from 1951 to 1956, with a brief network run in 1956. She retired from music in 1968 and died in 1984 of complications from diabetes.
A Handful of Stars
Ina Ray Hutton (Stuart Foster), Okeh (1940)