Ina Ray Hutton

Photo of Ina Ray Hutton
  • Birth Name

    Odessa Cowan
  • Born

    March 13, 1916
    Chicago, Illinois
  • Died

    February 19, 1984 (age 67)
    Ventura, California
  • Featured Vocalists

    Stuart Foster
    June Hutton

The most prominent female bandleader of the swing era, Ina Ray Hutton came to fame during the 1930s with her all-girl orchestra, the Melodears. Her glamorous looks and seductive stage persona earned her the nickname “Blonde Bombshell of Rhythm.” Hutton dropped her glamour act in 1939 and got serious, forming an all-male band that debuted the following year and remained active through the war years. While Hutton’s later band initially attracted much attention, it never managed to break through to the top.

Hutton began singing and dancing at the age of eight. She worked on Broadway during the early 1930s, appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies and the George White Scandals, before being asked in 1934 by booking agent Irving Mills to front an all-girl orchestra. Quite unusual for its time, the Melodears quickly made a name for themselves, appearing in three Paramount musical shorts in 1935, but by the late 1930s the act had lost its novelty. June Hutton, Ina Ray’s half-sister, sang with the band under the name Elaine Merritt, both solo and as part of the Winsteads vocal trio. Ina Ray herself also sang.

Hutton disbanded the Melodears in mid-1939 and began rehearsing an all-male orchestra later that year. She told Down Beat magazine that she was “through with all this flash and glamour stuff” and wanted a band that would “attract attention by its music and nothing else.” The new band made its debut in spring 1940, impressing both critics and audiences. Stuart Foster served as male vocalist, while Hutton handled female vocals. The early orchestra also featured the Kim Loo Sisters, a Chinese-American trio. The band recorded on Okeh in 1940 and 1941, and on Hit in 1941 and 1942.[1]

In February 1942, Hutton hired sax player and arranger George Paxton, to whom she reportedly offered fifty percent of her profits to join the band. Paxton played a large part in the orchestra’s continuing success, becoming musical director and de facto leader, leaving Hutton to front the band. Paxton left in May 1944 to form his own group, and Hutton temporarily disbanded in August, citing a need to rest. She returned to the bandstand in December. Foster again served as male vocalist but left in February 1945 for Tommy Dorsey’s band.

Difficulties with her booking office forced Hutton to disband in mid-1945. After taking her case to the musicians union, she put together a new outfit in December, preparing for a February 1946 debut. She disbanded again in December 1946 but had put together a new orchestra by August 1948, which lasted at least through October.

In mid-1947, Hutton became involved in a scandal when the wife of bandleader Randy Brooks filed for separation and accused Hutton of having an affair with her husband. She and Brooks married in April 1949 and settled on the West Coast, where she formed a new all-girl orchestra which appeared on a regional television program from late 1950 to 1955, with a brief network run in 1956. She and Brooks divorced at some point after 1954.

Ina Ray Hutton retired from music in 1968 and passed away in 1984, at age 67, of complications from diabetes.


  1. Bob Anthony reportedly sang with the Hutton’s orchestra at some point before the war, likely in the very early band, prior to Foster joining, or perhaps as a substitute for Foster at a later time. ↩︎


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Who's Who in Music: Presenting Ina Ray Hutton's Band.” Down Beat Jun. 1939: 13.
  3. “Ina Ray Hutton Drops Girls for Male Band.” Down Beat Jul. 1939: 1.
  4. Toll, Ted. “Panning By Critic Didn't Influence Me.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1939: 19.
  5. Flynn, Ed. “Blonde Bombshell Says She's Through with Glamor Stuff.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1940: 1.
  6. “Ace Sidemen Dot Ina Ray's New Outfit.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1940: 1.
  7. Doudna, William L. “Notes to You.” The Wisconsin State Journal [Madison, Wisconsin] 2 Oct. 1940: 3.
  8. Advertisement. Fitchburg Sentinel [Fitchburg, Massachusetts] 23 Apr. 1941: 5.
  9. Advertisement. Fitchburg Sentinel [Fitchburg, Massachusetts] 23 Apr. 1941: 5.
  10. Advertisement. Cumberland Evening Times 25 Jul. 1941: 17.
  11. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 14 Mar. 1942: 20.
  12. “Hutton Loses Five Men to Uncle Sam.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1942: 21.
  13. “On the Stand: Ina Ray Hutton.” Billboard 15 Aug. 1942: 22.
  14. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Los Angeles.” Billboard 14 Nov. 1942: 16.
  15. “Vaudeville Reviews: Earle, Philadelphia.” Billboard 4 Dec. 1943: 21.
  16. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Los Angeles.” Billboard 13 May 1944: 26.
  17. “Carlos Molina In San Francisco.” Down Beat 15 May 1944: 7.
  18. “Ina Ray Hutton Disbands Ork.” Billboard 19 Aug. 1944: 15.
  19. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1944: 5.
  20. “Ina Ray Hutton Sets Band for Theater Dates.” Billboard 9 Dec. 1944: 22.
  21. Advertisement. Manitowoc Herald Times [Manitowoc, Wisconsin] 29 Dec. 1944: 2.
  22. “Ina Ray Hutton Back On Stand.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1945: 11.
  23. “Ina Ray Puts New Ork Into Rehearsal.” Down Beat 28 Jan. 1946: 3.
  24. “Trade Tattle.” Down Beat 9 Sep. 1946: 21.
  25. “Philly Ramblings Among Jazzmen.” Down Beat 18 Nov. 1946: 15.
  26. “Randy Brooks' Wife Name Hutton.” Down Beat 16 Jul. 1947: 1.
  27. “Cincy Hotel Thinks Twice; Hires Band.” Down Beat 25 Aug. 1948: 3.
  28. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 6 Oct. 1948: 5.
  29. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 20 May 1949: 10.
  30. “Sidemen Switches.” Down Beat 30 Jun. 1950: 6.
  31. “Los Angeles Band Briefs.” Down Beat 3 Nov. 1950: 8.
  32. “Ina Ray Ork In San Diego.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1950: 3.
  33. “Ina Ray Ork Looks Good On TV.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1950: 13.