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Lounge Act: 1948

New York circa 1948. "Jazz singer at the Onyx Club, 52nd Street." We trust that this canary won't stay unidentified for long. Medium format Kodachrome transparency by Down Beat photographer William Gottlieb. View full size.

New York circa 1948. "Jazz singer at the Onyx Club, 52nd Street." We trust that this canary won't stay unidentified for long. Medium format Kodachrome transparency by Down Beat photographer William Gottlieb. View full size.


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The mole means nothing. It was common for women of that era to paint one on their face as a beauty spot.

["Beauty marks" are something you're born with. And no woman would put a "beauty spot" in that spot. - Dave]

Helen Merrill?

Suggested earlier, but I also think she's Helen Merrill, b. 1930 in Croatia. Merrill was singing in jazz clubs at age 14, and the performer shown here certainly looks young enough to be 17-18.

[Helen Merrill has attached earlobes, real eyebrows and no mole. And the lady in our photo is no teenager. - Dave]

Not in Collier's

None of the photos accompanying the Gottlieb article in the July 3, 1948, issue of Collier's ("Good-Time Street: The story of the most raucous and colorful block in New York" by Bill Gottlieb) were taken at the Onyx.

[Incorrect. The photo below of Harry Gibson, which illustrates the article, was taken at the Onyx. - Dave]

My apologies! I thought "Harry The Hipster" was the owner of another nightspot! I should have recognized those red curtains, shouldn't I?

Not in Down Beat

I'm afraid the photos from this shoot were not used by Down Beat at all, in 1948 at any rate. Today I went through the bound volumes of Down Beat from January 1948 to June 1949, without success. To err on the side of certainty, I read every single caption with a New York dateline, and compared every headshot of a female singer (there were several in every issue, mostly obscure) to Ms. Mole. Nothing.

Down Beat did have a regular feature "Where the Bands Are Playing" which listed some 200 or 300 bands and solo singers and the venues where they'd be appearing for the next couple of weeks (as DB was biweekly); but sadly it's alphabetised by name of act and not by venue!

[It might be worthwhile to look in the 1947 issues as well. The years on many of these photos are based on publication dates; the pictures may have been taken weeks or months earlier. In addition, some of Gottlieb's work appeared in the July 3, 1948, issue of Collier's. - Dave]

Stumped, But More Info

I tried to ID the lady and could not. However, while doing that I learned that Gottlieb left Down Beat magazine in 1947. For what it's worth, either the date of the photo shoot is off or it ran in a later issue after he left.

[It may have been taken for another publication. The lot number on the transparency is the same as for other exposures dated July 1948. - Dave]

June Christy, I think

With her mouth open and her eyes closed, it's hard to compare this to other photos, but there's one on Pinterest, "Miss June Christy: Live on Stars of Jazz (1957)", that shows her ear, and the comparison is strong.

Wikipedia says, "When the Kenton Band temporarily disbanded in 1948, she sang in nightclubs for a short time." So the date fits.

[Below, June Christy and her attached earlobe circa 1947, definitely not the lady in our photo. - Dave]


I give up. I've spent far too many hours on this. I looked at every publication of his at the LOC, and googled a myriad of search terms/phrases, and I just can't figure it out. Please tell us?

New Yorker no help

I looked at a bunch of 1948 New Yorkers but pretty much the only acts they listed for the Onyx Club (which they cover sporadically in Talk of the Town) were Charlie Parker and the Merry Macs (separately, of course). This woman doesn't seem to resemble either of the female singers with the Merry Macs at the time, Marjory Garland or Imogene Lynn, based on the very small number of pictures available online ... sigh.

Wouldn't it have to be one of the singers on the album?

Side A:
1. Cry Me A River - Julie London
2. Black Coffee - Ella Fitzgerald
3. --

[ The album is a compilation released last year. This photo was used as cover art because it was free. - Dave]

Whoever it may be, it's not June Christy

How about Lennie Tristano in drag? No, wait a minute, Lennie's not a vocalist. I'll get back to you --

A clue, perhaps?

I may not be very good at 'em, but I can't resist a challenge!

I went over to the LOC site to get a closer look at the original, to see if any further details could be gleaned. Apart from what appears to be sheet music or a magazine on the piano, there's nothing that appears to give even an approximate date.

I don't know much about photography, but I noticed in the upper right hand corner what seemed to be some sort of identification number (367-33). Operating on the assumption that it identified the specific roll of film used, I went back to the main page and looked around for any other Gottlieb shots with that ID (or at least the first three digits). Sure enough, there's a day shot of 52nd with the Onyx right in the center, same ID number.

[This is sheet film, not roll film, and that's a lot number, shared by other exposures dated July 1948. - Dave]

Gottlieb was too far away and the Onyx's front was in too much shadow to see if there were any showcards, but it appears that one Harry the Hipster was on the list that day (if he wasn't a regular feature). But what *is* clearly visible is the featured artists over at the Three Deuces: Erroll Garner, J. C. Heard, and (Oscar) Pettifo(rd).

The Wikipedia article for Erroll Garner features another Gottlieb shot of the same marquee, identifying it as taken in May 1948 without any concrete attribution. Given the cool-weather dress of the good folk of New York in both pictures, however, early May or late April might not be an unreasonable assumption to make.

I think it would be simple, then, to pin down when Garner, Heard and Pettiford were playing the Deuces and then, perhaps, cross-check who was playing the Onyx on those same dates.

The politics of it

You're doing a record album featuring female singers. Of course, you'd like to show a female singer doing her thing on the jacket. The problem then becomes, which female? How can you place one of the ladies from your album on the cover? That might cause issues with the other singers. If you photograph a lesser known singer [they have fans too] for the cover, HER followers will want to know why she isn't in the album.

My bet is that this mystery singer is no singer at all, but a generic "stand in" for the genre. There! Peace is maintained, and all of these talented women will be willing to work for you again in the future.

[Um, no. William Gottlieb didn't shoot album cover art. He was a photojournalist who took pictures for Down Beat magazine as well as other publications. - Dave]

Second Guessing

Rosemary Clooney? Maybe she had the mole removed later?

[If this were some even halfway famous singer, she'd be named in the caption. (And if this were Rosemary Clooney, she'd look like Rosemary Clooney.) Does the answer await in some dusty back issue of Down Beat? - Dave]

I didn't look through old Down Beat issues but after some sleuthing I am confident it's Betty Grable. The ear lobes provided the clue.

[That's not Betty Grable. - Dave]

This lady's hard to find!

I'm guessing Dottie Reid. Same photographer, same club, same ear lobes. Could the mole be make-up?

[It's not Dot. - Dave]

What a great mystery!

I'm with dwig. The lighting -- evidently a strobe from the left behind the camera, the careful framing of the blonde -- point to that. Even the pianist doesn't really look like he's playing. Everybody is so compact and carefully placed. It's a shot for the magazine, not during an actual live performance. So who knows who the model for the singer is? Any other pix by the photographer that also feature that model?

[All of William Gottlieb's 1,700-plus photos in this collection were "shot for the magazine." They can be seen here. We can tell this was taken at the Onyx Club by comparing it with his other photos taken there. And yes, Gott did use supplementary lighting. Below, his photo of the Stan Kenton band. - Dave]

I would say Norma Jean

Marilyn Monroe did some singing along with modeling during her early career.

[If only this lady looked remotely like Marilyn Monroe! - Dave]

Late entry

All about the NYC night club scene. Many pictures, just scroll down.

How about Marion Hutton?

I'm too tech-impaired to figure out how to upload the photo, but to me the woman in these photos looks very much like the woman in this photo:

(It's one of a series of photos of Ms. Hutton with Jerry Wald, Mel Torme, and Gordon MacRae taken by William Gottlieb that ran in Downbeat in 1947.)

[Marion is missing the mole. She also has attached earlobes. - Dave]

Could it be

Lee Wiley? If so, the piano player is her husband, Jess Stacy.

[Lee Wiley was born in 1908. - Dave]

International Woman of Mystery

In 1948, following a gig at the Onyx Club in New York, the Exotic Esteleta Morrow played Cuba's Night Club in Asbury Park, New Jersey from August 1st to the 8th. She was never heard of before, never seen since, and no photo ever found. She gets my vote.

Good a guess as any I suppose

I'm thinking Evelyn Knight OR Eva Peron (okay, just kidding on that second guess but hey, the hair matches).

Might not be a singer at all

This is quite obviously a posed shot. It might even have been done in a studio, though could have been setup in a club off-hours. Lighting is done purely for the photo.

[As noted in the caption under the photo, it was taken at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street. One of hundreds of similar photos taken by William Gottlieb for Down Beat magazine, none of which are "studio shots." Please READ THE CAPTION before commenting. - Dave]

Shorpy hive mind ...

... is letting me down! It is killing me not to know who this is, because she looks so damn familiar! It's not Frances Langford (my first thought), Peggy Lee, Martha Tilton, Helen Forrest, Helen Merrill, Jo Stafford, June Christy, Martha Mears -- augh!

Definitely Peggy Lee

Photo dated 1950.

[I would have to say definitely not. - Dave]

Another shot of this singer

Note the mole.

The Bartender's Standard Cocktails

I'd bet the ladies are drinking Manhattans and the men Scotch on the rocks, two standards of my parents' generation. Of course my dad preferred the Old Fashioned, but the glassware is wrong for that.

That album cover has nothing to do with the music on the album. It was royalty-free art so it was used.

Helen Forrest?

It rather looks like Helen and the hairstyle is one she sometimes wore as a blonde and brunette. She was headlining at clubs and theatres in the late 40s after singing with the Harry James Orchestra, recording with Dick Haymes and appearing in a couple of movies earlier in the decade.

Red Herrings

It's not someone on the LP set; they're all too young. My vote is for Jeri Southern.

Studio Shot

This might be a posed photo for that album. Since several singers are listed, seems reasonable the producers would just want a shot that make the point about the different female singers. In other words, no featured singer on the cover of the album.

[This is not a "studio shot." As noted in the caption, the photo was taken in the Onyx Club. It is cover art for an album released in 2018. - Dave]

Wonder if there's a photo credit on the actual album? Think Vexman has a very good point.

[The photo credit is "Photo by William Gottlieb." - Dave]

I'm 99% sure it's Peggy Lee

Because I think the pianist is her husband of many years, Dave Barbour. Google Image him and the face that comes up is a dead ringer.

[These are two different people, and Dave Barbour played the guitar. - Dave]

A bit of Lynch too!

The red curtains look like the inspiration for David Lynch and "Twin Peaks"! Looking forward to finding out details. Is there a historic Down Beat website?

Album cover photo

This picture is used as an album cover photo. Possibly Julie London?

[Doubtful. - Dave]

Girl drinks

The men are drinking some kind of golden-colored liquor (whisky?) on the rocks while the women have an amber-colored cordial in a tall stemmed glass, neat. Wonder what it is.

Just a Hunch

I'm gonna guess it's Peggy Lee.

Kodachrome Noir

A photo more evocative of the 1940s than this one would be hard to imagine. Here we have the sultry blonde singer winning the rapt attention of the (likely) husband of the poised, sophisticated, bepearled, Bacall-eyebrowed smoker, who is engaged in conversation with an attentive, lacquer-manicured gent while the slicked-down, slightly scarred tough guy on the right stares menacingly at he camera. All this scene needs is Humphrey Bogart.

Is it June Christy?

It looks a lot like her so that's my guess.

[Probably not. - Dave]

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