Helen Humes ©1999JCMarion


Helen Humes was born in Louisville Kentucky in 1913. By the time she was a teenager she was a proficient enough vocalist to move to New York and try her luck at making it in the Big Apple. She found work with Stuff Smith and a young Al Sears. She was chosen to record vocals with the newly formed Harry James big band in 1937. Her recordings with the James band included "Jubilee" and "I Can Dream Can't I" on Brunswick #8038, "That's The Dreamer In Me" on #8055, and "Song Of The Wanderer" on #8067. Soon Humes became part of the Count Basie band in the late 30s and split vocal duties with Jimmy Rushing. Some of her vocals with Basie included "Dark Rapture" on Decca #2212, "Blame It On My Last Affair" on #2284, "And The Angels Sing" on Vocalion #4784, "It's Torture" on Okeh#5773, and "Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea" for Columbia#35357.

After her tenure with the Basie band ended in 1941, Humes located in Los Angeles where she worked as a solo performer. Suddenly swept up in the post war movement in L.A., Humes switched from a jazz ballad singer to an R & B vocalist and began to get notices in and around the city. A couple of early releases on Savoy turned up in late 1944 : #5513 - "Fortune Tellin' Man" / "I Would If I Could" and #5514 : Keep Your Mind On Me" / "Suspicious Blues". She recorded "Married Man Blues" and "The Boogie" for Black & White #109 in 1946. In 1947 she began recording for the Philo label based in Los Angeles. Philo #105 "Blue Prelude" and "He May Be Your Man" got good airplay in Southern California. The follow up on Philo #106 "Every Now And Then" / "Be Baba Le Ba" was an even bigger hit record and made the Humes name a big draw among R & B fans in and around Central Avenue. She teamed with Jay McShann and his orchestra on Philo #107 for "Unlucky Woman" and the instrumental flip side "McShann's Boogie Blues". The Philo sides are re-released as Aladdin, as the record company is now known. "Central Avenue Boogie" and "Please Let Me Forget" is on Aladdin #122. In 1949 "Pleasin Man Blues" is on #125, and #126 is "See See Rider" and "It's Better To Give Than Receive". Humes moves to Mercury for a few sides during the latter half of the year. Mercury #8047 is "Jet Propelled Papa" / "Blue And Sentimental", #8056 - "I Refuse To Sing The Blues" / "They Raided The Joint" (a remake of an earlier song), and #8077 - "Jumping On Sugar Hill" and "Today I Sing The Blues".

In early 1950 Helen Humes decides to sign with a new independent record company called Discovery Records. Meanwhile she continues to be a big draw in clubs and theaters. In late January she appears at the Club Oasis in L.A. with Nat Cole in a show that is a huge success. In the spring Discovery #519 is released. On it Humes is backed by the Marshall Royal Orchestra on "Rock Me To Sleep" and "Sad Feeling". Both songs were written by jazz musician Benny Carter. During the summer Humes is on the bill at Gene Norman's big Rhythm & Blues Jamboree at the Shrine Auditorium along with Dinah Washington, Roy Milton, Peewee Crayton, and many others. In July Discovery #520 is out - "This Love Of Mine" and "He May Be Yours" again with the Marshall Royal orchestra. Helen appears with The Ravens in Salt Lake City in August, and in the fall Modern Records has a Humes release - "Million Dollar Secret" and "I'm Gonna Let Him Ride" on #779 that was recorded live at the R & B Jubilee. This record of "Million Dollar Secret" is a good and steady seller for the rest of the year and Humes biggest in some time. Late in the year Aladdin Records issues an LP entitled "Blues After Hours" (one of the very first R & B LPs) that will include four tunes by Humes. Late in the year Discovery #530 is released - "One Hour Tonight" and a remake of her biggest hit "E-Baba-Le-Ba".

In 1951 Helen Humes continues to make personal appearances throughout Southern California and maintains her popularity as a top draw entertainer. In April Discovery #535 pairs Helen with jazz star Dexter Gordon and they record "Airplane Blues" and "Helen's Advice" on #535. In May Humes goes on tour with a solid R & B show which featured Joe Turner and Hal Singer's Combo. Later in the year with the demise of Discovery Records Helen signs with Modern, but is also actively being pursued by Decca Records. Modern releases #851 - "Living My Life My Way" and "I Ain't In The Mood". Humes ends the year playing the big Christmas Benefit Show at the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles. After a short stay with Modern Helen Humes does indeed sign with Decca.

In early 1952 the label wants Humes to record her version of the big pop hit "Wheel Of Fortune". In February however Decca releases "You Played On My Piano" and "I Hear A Rhapsody". "Loud Talking Woman" and "They Raided The Joint" is out in April for Decca on #28113. In September of the year Helen has an extended stay at the Brown Derby in Honolulu, Hawaii. In August of 1953 Humes is a featured performer at Gene Norman's 4th Annual R & B Jamboree at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium. Humes sometimes performed with Jazz at the Philharmonic but was mostly a single in the mid and late 1950s. She had one release for the Dootone label in 1955 on # 374 - "Woojamacooja" and "That's All I Ask". She recorded three well received albums for Contemporary during 1959-61 and had tours with Red Norvo. She moved to Australia in 1964, after two successful tours of the country. She had stopped performing in the late 1960s but made a low key comeback in clubs in New York and Los Angeles in the mid 1970s. She then remained active until her death in September of 1981.0

Helen Humes bridged the link between big bands and Rhythm & Blues and offered the best of both worlds. An accomplished performer in both fields of music, Humes left a legacy of showing all of us where we were and where we have come. She was a true original and should never be forgotten.

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