June 26, 1905: Teddy Grace and the Low-Down Blues
June 26 is the birthday of Teddy Grace, nee Stella Crowson, who hailed from Louisiana and found some fame singing the blues in the late 1930s. Teddy was a short-timer on the Boston scene. She sang with Mal Hallett’s Orchestra twice, in 1934-35 and again in 1937.
She was singing with territory bands in the south when she joined Hallett in 1934, but I have not yet discovered how they met. The non-stop touring and unwanted attention from male “admirers” wore her down and she left the business for a time. She returned to the Hallett band in 1937, and found it a much better group than the one she left, with a strong brass section, Frankie Carle’s piano, and Frank Ryerson’s arrangements. Grace recorded ten sides on the Decca label with the Hallett band, most jazz-flavored dance tunes sung in her southern style; my favorite is “Rockin’ Chair Swing,” which I can’t find online.
In late 1937 or early 1938, someone at Decca convinced Grace she’d be better off on her own. Decca placed commercial constraints on her when she sang with Hallett, but on her own she could sing the down-home, Louisiana blues. She made almost 20 records with sidemen like Bobby Hackett, Jack Teagarden, Charlie Shavers, and Bud Freeman. But the record-buying public wasn’t quite ready for a white woman who sang so much like a black one, and her records didn’t sell. She made her final recordings in 1940.
During World War II, she sang at war bond rallies and the like, night after night, and it was harder than the one-nighters with Mal Hallett. She lost her voice, and although she regained the ability to speak, she never sang again.
Grace, with her few records out of print and unable to sing, vanished from the public eye. A writer found her in late 1991, living in a California nursing home, alone, sick with cancer. She died there in January 1992.
Here is Teddy Grace singing “The You and Me That Used to Be,” with Mal Hallett.
And here is Teddy Grace with Jack Teagarden and “Crazy Blues.”