'All She Ever Wanted to Do Was Sing'

Louise Tobin, jazz vocalist who helped discover Sinatra and postponed own career, dies at 104
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 28, 2022 10:49 AM CST

"All she ever wanted to do was sing." That's how the Denton Record-Chronicle recently described Texas' Mary Louise Tobin, a big-band jazz singer in the '30s and '40s who almost became a national superstar performing with Benny Goodman's band before shelving her career to raise her family. Now, that "husky-throated" voice that has been compared to Ella Fitzgerald's is no more: Tobin, who started going by Louise Tobin after she began singing professionally as a teen, died Saturday at the home of one of her grandchildren in Carrollton, Texas, reports the Washington Post. Tobin was 104. Her biographer, Kevin Mooney, confirmed her death, as did her son Harry to the New York Times.

A cause of death wasn't immediately made available. Tobin started singing as a pro at age 15 after winning multiple regional and national singing contests, and while on tour, she fell in love and eloped with a trumpet player four years her senior named Harry James. In 1937, two years after they'd married, James was hired to play with Benny Goodman's band, though he left to form his own band just a couple of years after that. James needed a male singer, however, and Tobin says she found one for her husband while listening to a singing waiter on the radio in her hotel room. "I woke Harry and said, 'Honey, you might want to hear this kid on the radio,'" she once recalled in an interview, per the Post. That singer, as it turns out, was Frank Sinatra, who joined James' band and soon found himself catapulted into the limelight.

Tobin, meanwhile, had started to sing with Goodman's band, releasing hits like "There'll Be Some Changes Made" and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was." But as James' career took off, their marriage disintegrated, and Tobin eventually stepped away from her own career to go back to Texas to raise their two boys. The couple divorced in 1943, and James married actress Betty Grable almost immediately after. Tobin remained out of the spotlight until years later, when producers cajoled her into performing again. She started singing in small NYC venues, then performed at the 1962 Newport Jazz Festival. She married jazz clarinetist Peanuts Hucko in 1967 and performed with him for 30 years. The pair also ran a jazz club in Colorado. Hucko died in 2003, at which point Tobin retired. She's survived by her sons Harry and Tim and multiple grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. (Read more celebrity death stories.)

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