The Troy Street Observer

Feb 6, 1978: Singer Frances Wayne Dies

Frances Wayne, singer with the Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman big bands, died in Boston on Feb 6, 1978, a fact missed by the local media because it was busy covering the Blizzard of ’78.

Although Chiarina Francesca Bertocci was born in Boston, she was raised in Somerville and graduated from high school there. She took the name Frances Wayne sometime before 1940, when she started singing with Sam Donahue’s band. In 1941 she went to New York to work with her brother, clarinetist and bandleader Nick Jerret. Also making the trip was their housemate, Ralph Burns. Frances soon had a new job singing with Charlie Barnet, and a hit with “That Old Black Magic.” Both Wayne and Burns joined Woody Herman’s band in late 1943.

Wayne’s best-known effort is her torchy Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe,” arranged by Burns and recorded with Herman’s Herd in 1945. Later that year she married Neal Hefti, the Herman band’s trumpeter and arranger, and spent the remainder of her career working as a single or singing with various Hefti-led ensembles. She won the New Star Award in 1946 in Esquire magazine’s All American Jazz Band poll.


As Barry Ulanov wrote in Metronome in June 1945, Wayne was “essentially a moody, torchy type of singer, a more modern, handkerchief-less Ethel Waters. She sings with an Italian operatic intensity of feeling, in a jazz frame molded by her fine rhythmic understanding.” And here’s “Happiness.”

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