The Troy Street Observer

April 10, 1910: The Voice Behind the Curtain

Peg LaCentra CD Cover
Cover of Peg LaCentra, the Complete Recordings

Band singer and movie dubber Margherita Maria Francesca LaCentra—“Peg”— was born in Boston April 10, 1910. LaCentra had only a minor role in the jazz and nightlife story, but it was certainly a notable one nonetheless.

Peg LaCentra studied piano at the New England Conservatory of Music and acting at the long-defunct Fenway Academy of Dramatic Art, and worked as a staff singer and radio actor at WNAC in Boston just as the Depression was taking hold. In 1931, she moved to New York and a series of jobs in network radio. In 1934, she recorded for the first time, a song titled ”The Fortune Teller,” with the Johnny Green Orchestra.
LaCentra kept at it in the New York studios, and in 1936 was a singer on “The Mell-O-Roll Ice Cream Show.” The band was that of guitarist Dick McDonough. One of the sidemen in McDonough’s group was Artie Shaw, who was about to start his own orchestra, and he wanted LaCentra to sing with it. She joined Shaw’s orchestra in summer 1936. The band wasn’t successful and Shaw disbanded, but LaCentra recorded 13 sides with Shaw in her time there.

Next came singing Benny Goodman, for all of two weeks. LaCentra didn’t like him. She quit and returned to Shaw, who was organizing his 1937 band in Boston. She stayed with Shaw for about two months and recorded four more sides, and then returned to radio work in New York. In 1938 she recorded  six sides under her own name on Bluebird, backed by the studio orchestra of Jerry Sears, and in 1939 NBC gave her her own “Peg LaCentra Show,” but it is unclear how long it ran.

LaCentra was married to actor Paul Stewart, and during the war she joined him in California. Although she herself acted in movies and then on television until 1960, she found greater success in the late 1940s dubbing vocals in movies. She was not in the ranks of the most in-demand dubbers (Martha Mears, Jo Ann Greer, or the most celebrated, Marni Nixon), but she sang for Susan Hayward in Smash Up, and for Ida Lupino in The Man I Love and Escape Me Never.

Here is Peg, first singing as herself with Shaw in 1936, on “There’s a Frost on the Moon.” Then we hear Peg sing as Ida Lupino, on “The Man I Love.” Lupino does better with being dubbed than most I’ve seen.

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