Best remembered for their work with Charlie Spivak’s orchestra, the Stardusters began as a high school vocal trio in Springfield, Illinois, during the early 1930s. Formed by Curt Purnell, Glen Galyon and Dick Wylder, who all had gone to school together since childhood, they first got together as a singing group for a church party. Thinking they sounded good, they began practicing and earned a spot on a local Springfield radio station. After graduation, they headed to St. Louis, where they began performing on KMOX under the name of “Curt, Dick and Glen,” with Chevrolet as a sponsor.
In 1935, the three men headed east, ending up in Falmouth Heights, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, working the summer season. When the season ended, they went to Boston to join the orchestra of Herbert Marsh. Leaving Marsh in 1937, they headed to New York, where they hired a girl singer to form a quartet. In 1939, Purnell’s wife, Mary McKim, took over as female vocalist. The group soon began appearing on network radio programs such as Town Hall Tonight and George Jessel’s show. In 1940, they had their own program, Swing to Chiclets, which lasted forty weeks. They then did 26 weeks for Bond Bread over the Quaker network in Pennsylvania.
In September 1941, the Stardusters signed a five-year contract with Spivak, joining his new band on September 10 at the Central Theater in Passaic, New Jersey. McKim and Purnell had divorced by that time, and she’d left the group. June Hutton, half-sister to bandleader Ina Ray Hutton, took her place. 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 quit soon after. Spivak never replaced them after their departure, instead focusing on new singer Irene Daye as female vocalist. Galyon had left the group by that point, sometime after February 1943, replaced by Bob Lenn.
After being fired by Spivak, the quartet decided to remain on the West Coast for radio and film work. They made their first picture that October, a Universal musical short which also featured Martha Tilton and Ray Eberle. Hutton quit the Stardusters soon after 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.
During 1945, the quartet disappears from the media, possibly due to members entering the service. Purnell was reported in the army somewhere in Italy in April of that year. In Down Beat magazine’s yearly poll at the end of 1945, however, the Stardusters placed 15th in the category of vocal combo, indicating some activity. In early 1946, 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. Lenn had left the group by that point, though the exact date of his departure is unknown. Later in 1946, the group 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 as the 1950s dawned, for reasons unknown. During the 1940s, several other artists also called themselves “the Stardusters,” including a popular Canadian orchestra, 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.
Galyon possibly left because he entered the service. A Down Beat magazine photo in April 1945 showed Galyon in uniform touring the Pacific with a military quartet also called the Stardusters. ↩︎
Hutton’s replacement is not named in sources. ↩︎
Lenn had been gone for some time, long enough that Down Beat magazine asked his whereabouts in March 1946. ↩︎
Finding information on later members of the Stardusters is difficult. Few sources mention any of the group members by name. ↩︎