Column: A fond farewell to jazz and big band singer Betty Bennett Lowe
Local Jazz singer performed with Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and others
Betty Bennett Lowe was paid 50 cents for her first professional singing gig as a young girl, she recalled during an oral history interview. And she never stopped singing.
From growing up in a tiny town in Iowa, the young woman, known to the music world as Betty Bennett, went on to share the stage with jazz and swing artists and big band leaders of the era — Claude Thornhill, Alvino Rey, the Stan Kenton All Stars, Charlie Ventura, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet and Benny Goodman. Her rendition of the song, “Treat Me Rough,” was on the soundtrack of the “Music of ‘Mad Men’” album.
Lowe passed away April 7 at age 98 in her Tierrasanta home, which she shared with her daughter and caregiver, Alicia Previn. The singer had two daughters, both born when she was married to conductor André Previn from 1952 to ’57, long before Mia Farrow left Frank Sinatra for the Academy Award-winning music arranger.
Bennett later met her soulmate, celebrated guitarist Mundell Lowe, and they married on the eve of the 1975 Monterey Jazz Festival with jazz trumpeter Clark Terry playing “When I Fall in Love.” “There wasn’t a dry eye,” recalls daughter Claudia Previn Stasny.
The couple moved to Tierrasanta in 1989. They recorded albums and occasionally performed together locally and on the road. She was still driving Lowe to gigs until 2017, the year he passed away.
After her long career as a singer, Betty Bennett Lowe, who passed away on April 7, 2020, spent a lot of time reading and created a large library in her Tierrasanta home.
As a child, Bennett studied voice and piano and dreamed of an opera career until she was seduced by the music of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. She had a natural ability to put her own twist on classic songs while staying true to the melody.
As she gave an oral history interview to the National Association of Music Merchants on Oct. 1, 2018, three weeks before her 97th birthday, Lowe emphasized her love of being on the road with the big bands. Often, she was the only woman on a bus full of male musicians, Alicia says.
Lowe recalled those days with humor and insight in her memoir published in 2000, “The Ladies who Sing with the Band.” She offered behind-the-scenes glimpses of jazz icons, her marriage to André Previn, her soulmate Mundell Lowe, and her stays in London when her trio opened for headliners in Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in the mid-'60s.
“I just idolized her. She was my favorite singer ever,” notes Alicia, a professional violinist. “She could take Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan and mush them together. … The musicians loved her.”
Alicia applauds her mother’s encyclopedic repertoire of music. “You could say any word that came into your head, beginning with any letter of the alphabet, and she would know a song with that word in it.”
In later years, when Lowe had retired from performing, she read voraciously. “She practically ate books,” Alicia laughs.
But she also kept herself in great shape. “She was one of San Diego’s oldest Jazzercisers,” notes Claudia, saying she took classes until she was 93 or 94. Claudia describes her mom, who served in the Navy WAVES during World War II, as her best friend. “She always had a marvelous way about her and a great sense of humor. I’ve never met anyone who spent time with her who didn’t love her.”
Lowe’s daughters are planning a memorial, but COVID-19 has changed the landscape. They are considering an online memorial via Zoom or Facebook Live. However, once restrictions are lifted, Claudia says, “There will be a big party and everyone will get together.” That was the way her mom wanted it.
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