The Mystery Of Dardanelle

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.dar1

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.

darcdDardanelle Trio – “September Song”

16 thoughts on “The Mystery Of Dardanelle

  1. You will eventually cover everyone that recorded something, and that is good. I’m still waiting for someone I’ve absolutely never heard of to come up in your ‘Parade of Almost Forgotten Stars’ …Good Work BG!


  2. I don’t know if I’ll ever run out of people to write about, but I’m sure it wouldn’t surprise you to hear that it doesn’t all come pouring out of my head. I get ideas from a lot of places and then dig into Allmusic, Wiki, etc. for info.


  3. My husband and I had the great luck of meeting Dardanelle in the early ’90’s as she played in a lounge in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis. We went back several times and enjoyed visiting with her there. Years ago we had heard her little vignettes on WKNO radio on which she played and talked about growing up in rural MS. My husband has tried to locate copies of those with no luck. We also read that she wrote her autobiography but cannot find it. What a wonderful southern treasure she was!


  4. Dardanelle did not give up professional music when her family moved to Chicago. She was pianist and singer for a noon childrens’ TV show called Lunchtime Little Theater and her hostess name was Aunt Dody. I lived only a couple blocks from school so would rush home for lunch and the show every schoolday. This would be 1956-58, the show may have lasted longer.


  5. I think we’re both right. In the article I did say she left music to raise a family, but in the next paragraph I said that ‘she’d kept her hand in through the years by working part-time on Chicago TV’, so that was probably the show you remember.

    Thanks for writing and sharing your experiences.


  6. Right, BG. Some years back I’d read that Dardanelle’s own kids were school age when she took the Staff Pianist job at WGN, the hours were a good fit and balanced the job with quality family time.


    1. Brian Hadley is her only surviving son as far as I know. He performed with her on bass some years back. You might try Googling or Facebook, etc. for more info.



  7. I’ve recently come across an autographed copy of her album “A Woman’s Intuition” in mint condition and was wondering if anyone knew it’s value? I can’t seem to find a good reference point anywhere. Many thanks to the author for writing this informative article!


  8. She did not finish writing the autobiography. Her son Brian teaches music in Winona, MS. Her grandson Beckett is on Facebook.


  9. When Northwest Mississippi Community College in Senatobia, Miss., operated WNJC-FM, an NPR affiliate, I met Dardanelle in the mid-80s. We secured funding from the Mississippi Humanities Council to locally-produce “Musically Speaking with Dardanelle.” It was a 30-minute program that allowed her to spin some of her musical and Southern tales, play some good jazz music and sometimes perform, herself. The station closed in 1988. She took the same format to WKNO and was fortunate to have them continue the program under another name.


  10. My parents became friendly with Dardanelle after hearing her sing and play piano in the 70’s (possibly in NYC). I later had the pleasure of meeting her and her son Skip (Walter Byron) at either her or Skip’s home I believe in NJ at that time. Maybe Glen Rock, NJ. I heard that he tragically lost his life in 1979 in a bar when an off-duty police officers gun accidentally hit the floor and went off. I have scoured the internet and read of his death, but wondered where it occurred? My sister thinks it was in NYC?


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