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Mildred Bailey (born Mildred Rinker; February 27, 1903 – December 12, 1951) was a popular and influential Native American jazz singer during the 1930s, known as "The Queen of Swing", "The Rockin' Chair Lady" and "Mrs. Swing". Some of her best-known hits are "It's So Peaceful in the Country", "Trust in Me", "Where Are You?", "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart", "Small Fry", "Please Be Kind", "Darn That Dream", "Rockin' Chair", "Blame It on My Last Affair", and "Says My Heart". She had three singles that made number one on the popular charts and performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1947.[1]

Mildred Bailey
Mildred Bailey (Gottlieb 00411).jpg
Bailey in New York City, 1947
Background information
Birth name Mildred Eleanor Rinker
Born (1903-02-27)February 27, 1903
Tekoa, Washington, U.S.
Died December 12, 1951(1951-12-12) (aged 48)
Poughkeepsie, New York
Genres Jazz, vocal jazz, blues
Occupation(s) Singer
Labels Vocalion
Associated acts Red Norvo, Bing Crosby

She grew up on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation in Idaho, where her mother was an enrolled member. The family moved to Spokane, Washington when she was 13. Her younger brothers also became musicians, with her brother Al Rinker starting to perform as a singer with Bing Crosby in Spokane, where they appeared as the Rhythm Boys. Their brother Charles Rinker became a lyricist.



Bailey was born Mildred Rinker on a farm in rural Tekoa, Washington.[2] Her mother Josephine was a member of the Coeur d'Alene people[1] and a devout Roman Catholic.[3]

Bailey and her siblings grew up near De Smet, Idaho, on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation. Her father played fiddle and called square dances. Her mother played piano every evening and taught her to play and sing. Her younger brothers include Al, a vocalist and composer, and Charles, a lyricist.[4]

Music careerEdit

At age 17, Rinker moved to Seattle and worked as a sheet music demonstrator at Woolworth's. She married and divorced Ted Bailey, keeping his last name because she thought it sounded more "American" than Rinker,[3] which was of Swiss (German) origin.[1]

With the help of her second husband Benny Stafford, Bailey became an established blues and jazz singer on the west coast of the United States. According to Gary Giddins, in his book Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903–1940, she secured work in 1925 for her brother Al Rinker and his partner Bing Crosby, who had started performing in Spokane, Washington. They joined her in Los Angeles. Giddins says that Crosby first heard about Louis Armstrong Bailey, who urged him to hear Armstrong if Crosby was to be a serious jazz singer, and played Crosby records from her collection by Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith.[3]

Crosby helped Bailey in turn by introducing her to Paul Whiteman in Los Angeles. She sang with Whiteman's band from 1929 to 1933. According to Giddins, Whiteman had a popular radio program, and when Bailey debuted on it with her version of "Moanin' Low" in 1929, favorable public reaction was immediate. Bailey did not start recording with Whiteman until late 1931.[citation needed]

Her first two records were as uncredited vocalist for a session by the Eddie Lang Orchestra in 1929 ("What Kind o' Man Is You?", a Hoagy Carmichael song that was issued only in the UK), and a 1930 recording of "I Like to Do Things for You" for Frankie Trumbauer. She was Whiteman's popular female vocalist through 1932 (recording in a smooth, crooning style) but left the band later that same year over salary disagreements. She recorded several works for Brunswick in 1933 (accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers) and an all-star session with Benny Goodman's studio band in 1934, featuring Coleman Hawkins.[citation needed]

In 1930 Bailey married Red Norvo, a vibraphonist, improviser, and band leader. A dynamic couple, they were married until 1942, and were known as "Mr. and Mrs. Swing".[1] They lived and worked much of the time in New York City. They remained friends after their divorce.[citation needed]

From 1936-39, Norvo recorded for Brunswick (with Bailey as primary vocalist), and Bailey recorded for Vocalion, often with Norvo's band. Some of her other recordings featured members of Count Basie's band. The two continued to record together off and on until 1945. Bailey also sang on a number of Benny Goodman's Columbia recordings in 1939 and 1940.[citation needed]

A large woman, she suffered from diabetes. Due to her health, she retired for a time in 1944. She made only a few recordings following World War II and suffered from poverty but she performed at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1947.[1]

Bailey died of heart failure, due chiefly to diabetes,[citation needed] on December 12, 1951 in Poughkeepsie, New York, at age 44. Her ashes were scattered.[1]

Awards and honorsEdit

  • In 1989, Bailey was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
  • The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz describes Bailey as "the first white singer to absorb and master the jazz-flavored phrasing...of her black contemporaries."[1]
  • In 1994, a 29-cent stamp was issued by the US Postal Service in Bailey's honor;[5] it was designed by Howard Koslow, based on the photograph by jazz photographer William Gottlieb (at the head of this article) of Bailey performing at Carnegie Hall.[1] The 1907 birth year on the stamp is incorrect.
  • In 2012, the Coeur d'Alene Nation introduced a resolution honoring Bailey to the Idaho state legislature. They were seeking acknowledgement of the singer's Coeur d'Alene ancestry as well as to promote her induction to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame in New York City.[1]

Number one hitsEdit

In 1938, Bailey had two number one hits with Red Norvo and His Orchestra. "Please Be Kind" reached number one on the Hit Parade chart on May 7. She also sang lead vocals with Norvo on "Says My Heart", which reached number one during the week of June 18, 1938.[6]

Bailey sang lead vocals on "Darn That Dream", recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, which reached number one for one week in March 1940 on the U.S. pop singles chart.[7]


Hit singlesEdit

(Vocalion releases only)

Year Single US Cat. No.
1936 "For Sentimental Reasons" 18 3367
"More Than You Know" 15 3378
1937 "Trust in Me" (A-side) 4 3449
"My Last Affair" (B-side) 10 3449
"Where Are You?" 5 3456
"Never in a Million Years" 8 3508
"Rockin' Chair" 13 3553
"It's the Natural Thing to Do" 14 3626
"Bob White (Whatcha Gonna Swing Tonight?)" 14 3712
"Right or Wrong" 19 3758
1938 "Thanks for the Memory" 11 3931
"Don't Be That Way" 9 4016
"I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" 8 4083
"Small Fry" 9 4224
"So Help Me" 2 4253
"My Reverie" 10 4408
1939 "Blame It on My Last Affair" 13 4632
"Moon Love" 14 4939

Notable songsEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Miller, John. (Associated Press) "Idaho tribe: 'Mrs. Swing' was Indian.", The Wenatchee World; retrieved March 27, 2012.
  2. ^ Bush, John. "Mildred Bailey". AllMusic. Retrieved 23 November 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c Giddins, Gary (2001). Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams (1 ed.). Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-88188-0. 
  4. ^ "Death Takes Mildred Bailey, Blues Singer" Archived 2015-07-06 at the Wayback Machine., Seattle Daily Times, December 13, 1951.
  5. ^ "Mildred Bailey", Women on Stamps, Publication 512, United States Postal Service, 2003
  6. ^ a b c "YOUR HIT PARADE (USA) WEEKLY SINGLE CHARTS FROM 1938". Hits Of All Decades. Retrieved December 30, 2016. 
  7. ^ a b "Songs from the Year 1939". TSort. Retrieved December 30, 2016. 

Further readingEdit

  • The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz 1900-1950 by Roger D. Kinkle (Arlington House Publishers, 1974)