Shep Fields

Photo of Shep Fields

Though Shep Fields will always be remembered for his “Rippling Rhythm,” he also lead one of the most critically-acclaimed sweet orchestras of his day. Fields began his career as a bandleader while in college. In 1934 he accepted an invitation for his orchestra to go on the road with Veloz and Yolande, the nation’s top dance team at that time. Dubbed the “Veloz and Yolande Orchestra under the direction of Shep Fields,” they began an engagement in Chicago. There he began to experiment with arrangements. Taking a hodgepodge of styles from different, popular sweet orchestras of the time, he blended them together to form his own unique sound. Radio listeners and audiences responded enthusiastically. A contest was held to name this new sound. Four hundred entries called it “rippling rhythm.”

When the Chicago engagement ended, Fields and his orchestra traveled to Los Angeles with Veloz and Yolande but soon quit and headed back to New York. On their way to the East Coast, the band stopped for a one night stand in Rockford, Illinois. It was there that his legendary trademark was born. Fields tells it that he and his wife were sitting in a soda shop when she began to blow into her drink. Fields immediately grabbed onto the gimmick, and from then on the orchestra introduced each performance with Shep blowing through a straw into a pot of water. Though he was constantly kidded about the sound, it served as a memorable trademark throughout the band’s existence.

The orchestra signed to RCA’s Bluebird label and produced a string of successful hits throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, reaching the peak of its popularity in 1939, when Fields was featured on Billboard magazine’s July 15 issue. Charles Chester sang in 1936, leaving in December, with Bob Godet taking his place. Godet later changed the spelling of his last name to Goday. He remained with the band until April 1938, with Jerry Stewart replacing him. Guitarist and singer Hal Derwin also joined at this time. Stewart stayed with the band through at least December 1939. Derwin remained with Fields for more than two years, leaving in September 1940. Larry Neill became male vocalist after Derwin’s departure, with trombonist Sonny Washburn also singing. Neill occasionally played saxophone as well.

Fields used female vocalists much less than male singers in the 1930s. Marilyn Duke sang at some point in 1937. Phyllis Kenny joined in 1938, leaving in September. Kenney was the only girl singer to record with the orchestra in that decade. Annabelle Graham took over after Kenney left, and Claire Nunn sang from mid-1939 through at least December. Dorothy Allen joined on June 3, 1940, becoming a key part of the orchestra, both on records and on the stage.

Sax Appeal

In mid-1941, Fields decided to ditch his rippling rhythm and try something new. Disbanding, he formed a new, more musical dance orchestra, Shep Fields and His New Music, which featured only reed instruments, plus a rhythm section. Fields decried the loudness of brass-heavy bands and said he wanted to add “sax appeal” to his music, writing in Down Beat:

If jazz has a bad name, it is because of its noise. Most of the cacophony can be blamed on the brass. You can sit right on top of our band and hear yourself talk when we play… My idea of dance music for a ballroom or pavilion is that people who sit out the dance should be just as happy as those on the floor.

Field’s new band didn’t swing; it played straight dance music, but it did so better than most other dance bands of the day. Fields believed in keeping a consistent two-four upbeat in his music that both dancers and critics liked.

The new orchestra went through a slew of vocalists. Washburn departed with the other brass personnel from the old band. Neill was gone as well. Pat Foy became male vocalist. Eddie Kelly also sang in October. Allen remained after the change, staying through at least August 41. Ann Perry replaced her in October, with Ken Curtis taking Foy’s place in November. Curtis would later go on to earn his place in television history as Festus on Gunsmoke. As part of Field’s band, he proved popular with the critics and audiences, and he was often the band’s only vocalist. Fields had no girl singer in May or June 1942. Margie Greene was vocalist in early 1942.

Curtis fell victim to the draft in June. Ralph Young took his spot until he too received his draft notice in August. Scott Morrison then became male vocalist, staying through at least September. Gloria Foster joined the band in August but stayed less than a month. Billy Usher sang at some point in early 1943, and David Humphrey was vocalist prior to August 1943. Other male vocalists include Paul Johnson, who joined in October 1943, Danny Payne, who was with Fields in October 1945, Bob Stewart, in late 1945, and Alan Cummings, some time prior to mid-1944. Gene Martin, Tommy Lucas, Toni Arden, and Bob Johnstone also sang.

Meredith Blake joined Fields by August 1943, staying for the next three years. She was featured on Field’s radio programs on CBS, NBC Blue and the Mutual Network and made a number of recordings with the band. In summer 1944, she took time off to recover from an appendectomy, and in late 1945 she traveled overseas with the orchestra. She remained with the band through at least mid-1946, retiring some time after that.

Later Career

While the new orchestra initially met with great critical acclaim, it failed to find as much favor with the public as had Fields’ earlier group, and in 1947 he gave up and returned to his previous sound. He continued rippling into the 1950s. His popularity eventually waned, however, and he disbanded his group for good in 1955 and became a disc jockey for a Houston radio station. In 1963, he and his brother, Freddy, formed the talent agency Creative Management Associates. Shep Fields died of a heart attack in 1981.

Vocalist Timeline

Charles Chester
Bob Goday
Jerry Stewart
Annabelle Graham
Claire Nunn
Dorothy Allen
Larry Neill
Sonny Washburn
Pat Foy
Eddie Kelly
Ann Perry
Ken Curtis
Margie Greene
Scott Morrison
Gloria Foster
Bob Stewart

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. Callahan, Robert. “Tabloid.” The Boston College Heights 23 Apr. 1937: 2.
  3. Ross, George. “Broadway.” The Pittsburgh Press 16 Jul. 1938: 10.
  4. “The Reviewing Stand: Shep Fields.” Billboard 10 Sep. 1938: 13.
  5. “Shep Fields And His Orchestra.” Billboard 15 Jul. 1938: Cover.
  6. “Night Club Reviews: Hotel New Yorker, New Ice Terrace, New York.” Billboard 29 Jul. 1939: 17.
  7. “Orchestra Personnels: Shep Fields.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1939: 17.
  8. “The Reviewing Stand: Shep Fields.” Billboard 25 Nov. 1939: 11.
  9. “Holiday's Murder Springfield Take.” Billboard 30 Dec. 1939: 34.
  10. “Maurice's Casa Nova Supper Club, Austin, Tex.” Billboard 13 Jul. 1940: 20.
  11. “Shep Fields Wants 8 Saxes.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1941: 7.
  12. “Shep Dumps His Fishbowl, Hires Ten Reed Men!” Down Beat 1 May 1941: 4.
  13. “Sonny Washburn in J. Dorsey's Band.” Down Beat 15 May 1941: 11.
  14. “On The Air: Shep Fields.” Billboard 2 Aug. 1941: 12.
  15. Fields, Shep. “I Want More Sax Appeal.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1941: 5.
  16. “Shep's Chirp.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1941: 23.
  17. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 22 Nov. 1941: 11.
  18. “Frisco Musicians Fiddle While the Home Folks Burn.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1942: 14.
  19. “Shep Field's [sic] Singer to Head Army Band.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1942: 15.
  20. “Too Little Dance Music—Shep.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1942: 17.
  21. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 15 Aug. 1942: 23.
  22. “Shep Fields Has Many Changes.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1942: 1.
  23. “Changes in Personnel Of Bands.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1942: 9.
  24. “Good Dance Musicians.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1943: 14.
  25. “On the Stand: Shep Fields.” Billboard 28 Aug. 1943: 16.
  26. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 2 Oct. 1943: 22.
  27. “Iowa Ballroom Boosts Morale.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1943: 9.
  28. “Five Years Ago This Month.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1944: 2.
  29. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 19 Feb. 1944: 59.
  30. “Fields Ork Fair 19G at Phil Earle.” Billboard 4 Mar. 1944: 29.
  31. “Shep fields Brings Blake as Vocalist For Military Ball.” Oberlin Review [Oberlin, OH] 19 May 1944: 1.
  32. “Music Grapevine.” Billboard 22 Jul. 1944: 23.
  33. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1944: 5.
  34. Reed, Rod. “Sax Appeal Socko.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1944: 3.
  35. “Television Reviews: CBS Television.” Billboard 19 Aug. 1944: 12.
  36. Rathbun, Joe. “Joe's Radio Parade.” The Zanesville Sunday Times-Signal [Zanesville, OH] 27 Aug. 1944:i sec. 2, 10.
  37. “Where Is?” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1944: 10.
  38. “Final Bar.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1945: 10.
  39. “Vaudeville Reviews: Strand, New York.” Billboard 2 Jun. 1945: 31.
  40. “Very Nice Job.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1945: 10.
  41. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1945: 8.
  42. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 20 Apr. 1946: 123.
  43. “Advanced Record Releases.” Billboard 27 Jul. 1946: 124.