The Troy Street Observer

Mar 20, 1946: Shirley Mhore Meets John Kirby

Photo of John Kirby
Bandleader John Kirby

Boston vocalist Shirley Mhore/Moore joined John Kirby’s Orchestra on March 20, 1946. From 1938 to 1943, John Kirby led a very popular small group, “John Kirby’s Subtle Swing,” or the “Flow Gently, Sweet Rhythm Orchestra,” named after its network radio program. The sextet included trumpeter Charlie Shavers, alto saxophonist Russell Procope, clarinetist Buster Bailey, pianist Billy Kyle, drummer O’Neill Spencer, and bassist Kirby. Maxine Sullivan (then Kirby’s wife) sang with the group. Their popularity ebbed when Kyle and Procope were drafted, Spencer died, and Kirby and Sullivan divorced.

Shirley Mhore was a Boston singer and pianist who appeared out of nowhere to work with Sherman Freeman’s band at the Savoy in 1945. She was also a regular at the Sunday sessions at the Copley Terrace, singing with Frankie Newton, and in March 1946, with John Kirby. She joined Kirby’s band at the Brown Derby in Washington DC on this day in 1946, and apparently changed her name to the more conventional “Moore” at this time. She recorded with Kirby and remained with the group through the year. But then I lose track of her.

In late 1947, a singer and pianist named Shirley Moore turned up in Austin Powell’s R&B group, The Cats and the Fiddle, and records “Dark Avenue” for Apollo under her own name. In April 1948, this Moore moved to Bill Johnson’s jump group. (Johnson wrote “Tuxedo Junction” for Erskine Hawkins.) There she remained until mid-1951. That’s when I lose track of this Shirley Moore.

Back in Boston, Nat Hentoff wrote in Down Beat in August 1952 that pianist /vocalist Shirley Moore was at the Sugar Hill club, and wondered why she hadn’t made it nationally. “A number of musicians here claim convincingly that Shirley combines the best of Jeri Southern and Sarah Vaughan, with the ironic added note that she was singing her way before either had started, and she continues to be more original than both.” Then I lose track again, this time for good.

She was a promising singer, with supporters like Frankie Newton, John Kirby, and Nat Hentoff. What became of Shirley Mhore/Moore? Were the jazz Mhore and the R&B Moore  the same person? I’d like to know.

In the meantime, here is the John Kirby Orchestra in the 1947 film, Sepia Cinderella. Alongside Kirby are Shavers, Bailey, and Kyle. Charlie Holmes is on alto and Big Sid Catlett on drums.

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