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December 2000

Betty Bennett
The Ladies Who Sing With the Band

Since this is an autobiography dealing exclusively with the career of one particular jazz vocalist, one must question the advisability of the book’s title, which seems to imply a historical coverage of a whole genre, starting with Mildred Bailey and Helen Ward and perhaps ending with Mary Anne McCall or Betty Bennett. But apart from this editorial oversight, as well as others involving the author’s somewhat girlish tendency to overly rely on the exclamation mark for emphasis, and the consistent misspelling of New York’s Hotel Forrest as Forest, the book is a pleasurable read.

During her career, which began in the early 1940s, Bennett sang with a little-known territory band, gigged around New York with Georgie Auld and others, served in the Waves, and then worked the big time with Claude Thornhill, Alvino Rey, Stan Kenton All Stars, Charlie Ventura, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman, all the while maintaining relationships with and marriages to a number of different jazzmen, including Conte Candoli and André Previn. Her most lasting union has been with guitarist Mundell Lowe, her husband for the last 24 years.

Like most musicians who traveled on the road during the later years of the big band era, Bennett has a lot of stories to tell, but, for the most part, her innate, Midwestern-bred gentility prevents her from getting into the many revealing details that tend to make autobiographies of this sort most interesting. As a result, she emerges as a very nice, now 79-year-old lady who most certainly knows and remembers a lot more than she is willing to disclose.

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