The Forgotten Songbird – Mary Ann McCall

Not every female vocalist from the big band era went on to a big solo career. Although former songbirds like Doris Day and Dinah Shore became major stars, there were a ton of talented singers who just never seemed to get the key breaks. A good example was Mary Ann McCall, who was good enough to win fan polls but often struggled for recognition in her later years.

The Philadelphia native began to work professionally in the late 1930s while still a teenager, initially making appearances as a dancer and singer with Buddy Morrow’s band and later moving on to sing with Tommy Dorsey. The first of her two stints with Woody Herman’s band came next, but it was her second run with the group in the post-war years that marked the high point of her career.

By then she’d also picked up some experience with Charlie Barnet’s popular band, but had kept a low profile for a while during the latter years of the war. Meanwhile, Woody Herman had been revamping his band into a more modern style, calling it the Thundering Herd (or just the First Herd), and Mary Ann McCall was on board. Although Herman was forced by family problems to suspend the band for a while, he soon restarted what would become known as the Second Herd and Mary Ann was a part of it again, this time for several years.

By the 1950s she’d moved on, by then having made a few records that helped her get occasional solo jobs. She also sang with Charlie Ventura’s band for a while, and later made what would be her most acclaimed album — 1957’s Easy Living, which featured outstanding backup by Zoot Sims and others — but things were beginning to move downhill. She eventually relocated to Los Angeles, where she continued to be regarded as a respected talent (as you can see in the video below) but consistent success seemed elusive. As the years passed she had to scramble for the occasional lounge job but was still a favorite of fans in the know. She eventually retired from music, and died at age 75 in 1994.

Mary Ann McCall w/ Woody Herman Orchestra – “Big Wig In The Wig Wam”

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