FDR died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945. Since then, the twelfth of April has been a somber day in America. Imagine the mirthless merriment in Hitler's bunker when Goebbels came to tell the lunatic of this latest miracle. How odd that FDR predeceased Hitler's death by only a few weeks. Both came to power five weeks apart in the winter of 1933.
Something good did happen on April 12 -- not in 1945 but in 1918, the year when World War I ended. On that day Helen Fogel was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to orthodox Jewish parents, who kept a kosher home. The youngest of four children, and the only girl, she became Helen Forrest, one of the greatest girl singers of the big band era. She did a dynamite swing version of "All the Things You Are" for Artie Shaw's clarinet-led band. She was the perfect voice for Harry James's brassy sound. Between 1944 and 1947, she sang outstanding duets with Dick Haymes on the radio show starring the popular duo.
As a young woman Helen sang at such nightclubs as the Madrillon in Washington, DC. It was there that Artie Shaw heard her sing. Billie Holiday was leaving the Shaw band. Helen Forrest took her place. This was in 1938. A year later Helen married a drummer, almost always a mistake. When Shaw inexplicably broke up his band, at the height of its popularity and fame, another clarinetist came to the fore. In the two years she sang with the Benny Goodman band, Helen recorded more than fifty sides.
In 1941 she joined the Harry James band and sang big brassy tunes for the maestro's distinctive trumpet. She had an affair with James until that mustachioed gentleman up and married Betty Grable. She left the band. Her own marriage went under. She married an actor, divorced him, married a businessman, divorced him. Some men are bums mooching shamelessly and cheating when they can. The more reliable ones are boring, and they may be doing some cheating, too. I'm looking at it from Helen's point of view.
An unhappy childhood, frequent illness, a rocky romantic life. So don't envy Helen Forrest. But look her up and listen to that pure voice -- the voice of the only woman among the eighteen or so players in the band. She has a marvelous version of "Too Marvelous for Words." I love how she bends "too" in the musical phrase "you're much too much." She is the skylark of which she sings when she sings "Skylark" with the James band swinging behind her.
She died on July 11, 1999. -- DL