Helen O’Connell’s vivacious personality and dimpled cheeks might have helped her get noticed by fans in the big band era, but she could sell a song with the best of them. And even if her voice didn’t quite have the range enjoyed by some of her contemporaries, she became one of the most popular songbirds around.
Like many other performers in the pre-war years, the Ohio-born singer got her start via a combination of radio and touring with some of the many small bands that crisscrossed the country. Her big break came in New York when she latched on with Jimmy Dorsey’s band. He was soon featuring the young singer and as her popularity began to grow, she soloed on several best-selling records. But she became a star when Dorsey began to pair her up with crooner Bob Eberly.
The twosome became famous for a series of songs, each of which featured Eberly’s smooth baritone in the early portion, followed by a brief instrumental interlude and then O’Connell’s bright and feisty final part. It shows up on songs like “Amapola,” “Tangerine,” and especially “Green Eyes,” which became a huge hit.
Within a few years, O’Connell’s priorities changed and she retired to marry and raise a family — but by the 1950s she was again ready to tackle a singing career. She soon became a popular success once again, not only on records but also as a TV performer. Over the next several decades she would continue to be a fan favorite, and was still active right up until her death from cancer in 1993.