It was not unusual for big-band era songbirds to find a romantic connection with a member of the band and sometimes even marry them, but not many helped their new husband become a successful bandleader and composer. Frances Wayne did just that, marrying trumpeter Neal Hefti in 1944 and then helping him build his career, even though her own eventually wound down.
A Boston native, Frances Wayne was born as Clara Bertocci but took her stage name when she began working professionally in New York in the early 1940s. Still just a teenager, she first sang with her older brother’s group but soon moved on to a job with a big-band star, Charlie Barnet. It wasn’t long before she was singing on records like “That Old Black Magic” and other good-sellers for the band.
Within a couple of years she’d signed on as a vocalist with an even bigger star — Woody Herman — and it was during her period with the famous bandleader that she met and then married Hefti. She also made a name for herself as a soloist on several of the band’s best records, including “Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe.”
The couple stayed with Herman for a while longer, but by 1947 Hefti was ready to start his own band and his wife was a valuable part of the act. They did well and many of her best records from those days are still available, but as the years passed he gradually moved more to writing and arranging, the activities that would make his name. But he did still occasionally lead groups that gave Wayne an opportunity to sing, and she also worked with others from time to time. Although she slowed in later years, she was still performing almost up until her death in 1978 at age 53.