Best remembered for their work with Charlie Spivak’s orchestra, the Stardusters began as a high school vocal trio in the early 1930s with members Curt Purnell, Glen Galyon and Dick Wylder. During the late 1930s, they started appearing regularly on radio. Purnell’s wife, Mary McKim, joined as a fourth member in 1939.
In late 1941, the Stardusters signed with Spivak. McKim and Purnell had divorced by that time, and she’d left the group, so Spivak teamed the three men with singer June Hutton, half-sister to bandleader Ina Ray Hutton. They quickly became an integral part of Spivak’s early sound, helping the orchestra leader to gain a following. The quartet was particularly popular among the college crowd. Hutton sometimes sang solo as well.
In September 1943, soon after the orchestra completed filming on the Betty Grable picture Pin-Up Girl, Spivak put the Stardusters on notice and began looking for a replacement. The bandleader gave no public reason for the move, only hinting that there had been disharmony. The quartet continued with the orchestra into early October but were gone by December. Spivak never replaced them after their departure, instead focusing on new singer Irene Daye as female vocalist.
After being fired by Spivak, Hutton quit the Stardusters to go solo, and the three male members brought in another female vocalist to take her place. The four singers made the theater circuit and appeared in two minor films released in 1944, Universal’s Slightly Terrific and Republic’s Trocadero. Over the next two years, though, the quartet virtually disappeared from the media’s radar until early 1946, when they backed singer Phil Brito on recordings for the Musicraft label and provided vocals for two sides released by Bill McCune and His Alpine Hotel Orchestra on Coronet. Later in 1946, they recorded for the Swan label, backed by Phil Napoleon’s orchestra.
In February 1948, the Stardusters inked a two-year management contract with Johnny Brown of Spotlight Attractions, and their careers began to take off soon after. The group appeared as regulars on the Mutual network’s summer replacement musical giveaway program Three for the Money, and they signed with Decca later that year, backing both Peter Lind Hayes and Evelyn Knight on several songs, including the latter’s number one hits “A Little Bird Told Me” and “Powder Your Face With Sunshine.” They also backed Billie Holiday on two numbers, most famously “Weep No More.”
Early in 1949, the Stardusters sang with Monica Lewis on two sides and then recorded under their own name, with Gordon Jenkins providing orchestration, landing a top ten hit with “I Don’t See Me In Your Eyes Anymore.” Follow-up attempts later that year with orchestration by Sy Oliver and Roy Rose proved less popular. They backed Jack Haskell on his Decca recordings late that year as well. Billboard magazine’s 1949 disk jockey poll placed the quartet as the tenth most popular small singing group of the year.
Despite their success in 1949, the Stardusters disappeared again as the 1950s dawned. During the late 1940s, several other artists also called themselves “the Stardusters,” including a rhythm-and-blues act, a variety revue act, an all-girl swing band and a trapeze duo. The name was also used by many acts during the 1950s, including a girl singing trio, a Japanese jazz ensemble, and a white doo-wop group.