April 10, 1910: The Voice Behind the Curtain
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.
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