I’ve written a lot of posts about various Songbirds — the ladies who got their start by singing with the big bands — and even though many of them went through bad times, most managed to persevere and have a nice career. However, that wasn’t always the case. Ann Richards seemed to have everything going for her, including talent, beauty, and even marriage to a famous bandleader, but she came to a tragic end when she took her own life in 1982.
A native of San Diego, Margaret Ann Borden pointed toward a musical career while growing up, studying singing and even teaching herself to play the piano. By the time she was in her late teens she was calling herself Ann Richards, and was looking for professional opportunities in the West Coast jazz world of the early 1950s.
Although the age of the big bands was winding down by then, several good outfits were riding out the transition to a newer style of music. After spending some time learning the ropes with Charlie Barnet’s group she moved on in 1955 to a job with Stan Kenton, who was then in the midst of a long career as a bandleader, one that would see many ups and down. Kenton was much taken with the gorgeous and talented young singer, featuring her front and center in concert and on records. Before long he even married her in spite of their nearly 25-year age difference.
The rest of the decade went well — the couple even had two children along the way — but the 1960s brought a lot of change. It started in 1961, with the duo sharing the cover of a new album, Two Much!, but later the same year they split up. Details are fuzzy, but the timing seemed to match her decision to appear in Playboy magazine. Hoping for a boost to her solo singing career, she instead found herself in the midst of a scandal. Even though the pictures were tame by today’s standards, at that time it was unusual for a celebrity — even a minor one — to pose in Playboy, and it seemed to begin a downward spiral for the singer. Although she made a few more records and continued to make occasional club appearances in later years, she never really recovered her equilibrium and finally committed suicide at just age 46.