Bea Wain, Star Singer of the Big Band Era, Dies at 100
By SAM ROBERTS AUG. 24, 2017
Bea Wain in 1941. NBC
Bea Wain, one of the last surviving vocalists of the big band era, whose four No. 1 hits included a swing adaptation of a Debussy melody, died on Saturday in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was 100.
The cause was congestive heart failure, her daughter, Bonnie Baruch Barnes, said.
Ms. Wain, who was largely self-taught and whose Bronx accent vanished when she sang on the radio, started performing when she was barely 6 years old and continued past 90.
She got her big break in 1938, when she emerged from the chorus on the radio show “The Kate Smith Hour” to sing an eight-bar solo. The arranger Larry Clinton, who was listening, needed to hear no more. He was forming a band at the time and quickly signed her to be its vocalist.
That summer she sang with Mr. Clinton and his orchestra at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, N.Y.
“The impeccable Wain never fails to captivate us as Clinton’s brassmen play natty little curlicues around her,” Will Friedwald wrote in his book “Jazz Singing: America’s Great Voices From Bessie Smith to Bebop and Beyond” (1990).
After a year and a half with the band, she tired of the road trips and poor pay for recordings and left to perform on her own.
She also appeared regularly on the popular radio show “Your Hit Parade” and later on “Your All-Time Hit Parade.”
In a short-lived recording career (curtailed by a two-year strike by musicians over royalties that began in 1942), Ms. Wain was voted most popular female band vocalist in Billboard’s 1939 college poll. (Ella Fitzgerald was second.) She had No. 1 hits with versions of the standards “Deep Purple” and “Heart and Soul” as well as “Cry, Baby, Cry” and, most notably, “My Reverie,” an up-tempo version of the classic Debussy piano piece “Reverie” with lyrics by Mr. Clinton.
Bea Wain, Larry Clinton – Heart And Soul (1939)
Bea Wain, Larry Clinton – Heart And Soul (1939) Video by iTubeNL
She also sang wartime tear-jerkers like “Kiss the Boys Goodbye,” “My Sister and I” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
Ms. Wain and her husband, the French-born baritone and radio announcer Andre Baruch, later became a disc jockey team in New York.
She made $50 a week (about $870 in today’s dollars) working every night all summer with the Clinton band at Glen Island and only $30 for a three-hour session recording four songs. That meant that while songs like “My Reverie” and “Deep Purple” reaped a fortune for others, she made all of about $7.50 (or about $130 today) for each song.
L. Clinton – B. Wain – My Reverie
L. Clinton – B. Wain – My Reverie Video by Pax41 Music Time Machine
Ms. Wain was among the first singers to record “Over the Rainbow,” but MGM, which owned the rights, barred the release of her version until the movie “The Wizard of Oz,” which included Judy Garland’s performance of the song, opened in August 1939. By mid-September, four versions, including Ms. Wain’s and Garland’s, were in the Top 10.
Interviewed in 1988 for the nostalgia website Speaking of Radio, Ms. Wain recalled that when Helen O’Connell, a fellow big band singer, was asked how it felt to be a part of music history, she replied, “If I knew it was history, we would have paid more attention.”
Ms. Wain echoed that sentiment. “We were just kids working, making a small amount of money and singing,” she said. “That’s what we wanted to do.”
Beatrice Ruth Wain was born on April 30, 1917, in the Bronx, near Crotona Park, to Jewish immigrants from Russia. Her mother was the former Sara Levin. Her father, Morris, was a men’s custom tailor on Fifth Avenue.
Long before she graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School, she was making $2 a week as a featured performer on the Sunday morning radio show “The Horn & Hardart Children’s Hour.”
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do, which was to be a singer,” she said in an interview with KUOW, a public radio station in Seattle, in 2007.
She performed locally while in high school but was untutored as a vocalist. Given a scholarship by the National Stage Children’s Association to study singing, she took dancing lessons instead.
“I never wanted anybody to teach me how to sing,” she said in an interview with Sara Fishko for the New York public radio station WNYC in 2013. “I had piano, elocution and dancing lessons, but never singing lessons.”
In 1937, Ms. Wain recorded with Artie Shaw. (She was listed on the label as Bea Wayne; unbeknown to her, the record company had misspelled her surname and abbreviated her first name.) She later headed a vocal group called Bea and the Bachelors.
Bea Wain with her husband, Andre Baruch, at WMCA in 1947.
She married Mr. Baruch in 1938. During World War II, he served overseas while Ms. Wain performed at Army camps and naval bases. After the war, the couple were hosts of “Mr. and Mrs. Music,” a daily program on WMCA in New York, on which they doubled as disc jockeys and interviewers.
In 1973 they moved to Palm Beach, Fla., where they had a similar radio show. They retired to California in 1980.
Mr. Baruch, who later did play-by-play coverage of Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games with Vin Scully, died in 1991. In addition to their daughter, Ms. Wain is survived by their son, Wayne Baruch, a music producer, and two grandchildren.
Although it would become Ms. Wain’s signature song, “My Reverie” was almost scrapped when Debussy’s heirs learned to their horror that the music had been adapted for a pop audience with a brisk tempo and lyrics.
But when Mr. Clinton sent them his recording, she recalled, they replied, “If this girl sings it, O.K.”
Still, she expressed skepticism to the bandleader that his challenging multisyllabic lyrics (“Make my dream a reality/Let’s dispense with formality”) would bode well for the song’s chances of becoming a hit.
“I said, ‘To be a popular song these days, the kids who are delivering groceries have to be able to sing it, and they’ll never be able to.’ I said, ‘It will never make it.’ ”
Bea Wain, 1983 TV Hit Medley, Deep Purple, My Reverie, Dipsy Doodle
Bea Wain, 1983 TV Hit Medley, Deep Purple, My Reverie, Dipsy Doodle Video by Alan Eichler