You won’t hear much about her now, but at one time a quiet and respectable lady from Mississippi was one of the most talented jazz artists around. Over a career that lasted for more than a half-century, she played piano and vibes — and sang a little too — under the exotic-sounding name Dardanelle, years before many of today’s stars made performing under a single name a common practice.
But there does seem to be some confusion about her identity — not just her mysterious stage persona, but her real name too. Although everyone agrees that she was born in Mississippi in 1917, one source says she started life as Dardanelle Breckenridge, named by her father for the Dardanelles Straits. But even though she apparently did sometimes use Breckenridge, most sources say her real name was Marcia Marie Mullen, and she gave herself the name Dardanelle in the early stages of her career.
In any case, she was a talented pianist, vibraphonist, and singer who was raised in a musical household and then continued her development by majoring in music in college. She also played piano on regional radio, and by the late 1930s began to appear professionally on the national scene. During the 1940s she led a jazz group (unusual for a woman at that time) known as the Dardanelle Trio, which varied in personnel but initially included bassist Paul Edenfield and guitarist Tal Farlow, who would later go on to a solo career of his own. The trio made a lot of good records during that period and also became a regular fixture at New York’s Copacabana, but by the 1950s Dardanelle had relocated to Chicago and left music to raise a family.
By the 1970s, Dardanelle (who was now known offstage by her married name, Marcia Hadley) was ready to return to music. She’d kept her hand in through the years by working part-time on Chicago TV, and after relocating to the East Coast she formed a new trio that included her son, Skip Hadley, on drums. It was the beginning of two decades of successful activities that included working with pros like Bucky Pizzarelli and George Duvivier, making lots of good records, and appearing in a number of venues. Those included spots as widely varied as Carnegie Hall and on stage in Tokyo. She eventually retired to Mississippi, where she continued to entertain fans from time to time until her death at age 79 in 1997.