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Louise Tobin, Jazz Vocalist Who Put Her Profession on Hold, Dies at 104


With the massive band era in full swing in 1939, Louise Tobin, a jazz vocalist with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, was on the cusp of nationwide fame. But she soon put her profession on hold on the request of her husband, the trumpeter and bandleader Harry James.

Mr. James had begun touring along with his own band, leaving Ms. Tobin to take care of their two sons, Harry Jr. and Tim. And after the couple divorced in 1943, Ms. Tobin devoted herself to raising them for the following 20 years or so.

Over time her melodic voice was largely forgotten — until she was invited onstage for an impromptu performance at a Latest Orleans nightclub within the late Nineteen Fifties.

A recording of that appearance helped jump-start her profession, and she or he soon joined the band of Michael (Peanuts) Hucko, a clarinetist and bandleader. The 2 became an item, and married in 1967.

Ms. Tobin, who spent the following many years traveling the world and making music with Mr. Hucko, died on Saturday at the house of a granddaughter in Carrollton, Texas, her son Harry said. She was 104.

The newspapers of her day often compared Ms. Tobin’s warm voice to that of a young Ella Fitzgerald. She became an expert singer as a teen, after winning a radio talent contest in Dallas in 1932. She was the fourth youngest of 11 siblings, and she or he eagerly left behind household chores to tour the state with different jazz ensembles.

“I used to be thrilled,” she told The Dallas Morning News in 2010. “My success was to not must wash dishes.”

In 1934, she joined a neighborhood big band, where she met Mr. James, who played first trumpet. They eloped in 1935, shortly after the orchestra split up, and traveled across the country in search of work.

By 1937, Mr. James had joined Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, and in 1939 he left to begin his own band, which endured for 4 many years and was the primary orchestra to employ Frank Sinatra.

By Ms. Tobin’s account, she heard the young Sinatra sing on a neighborhood radio show and suggested that Mr. James visit him on the Latest Jersey restaurant where Sinatra worked as a singing waiter.

Ms. Tobin was performing in Latest York on the time, and she or he joined Mr. Goodman’s band after a talent scout saw her perform in a Greenwich Village nightclub.

She released hit records with Mr. Goodman’s orchestra, like a rendition of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” which became one of the popular songs within the country. But as her profession gained momentum, so did that of Mr. James, who became one of the popular bandleaders of the swing era: In 1942, Columbia Records attributed a shortage of shellac to demand for his records.

“We were more trying to determine Harry than we were trying to determine me,” Ms. Tobin said in 2010. “I didn’t juggle it thoroughly.”

Mr. James’s success kept him on the road, where he was surrounded by temptation. Shortly after he and Ms. Tobin divorced in 1943, he married the actress Betty Grable.

Ms. Tobin was still popular when she quit Mr. Goodman’s band within the early Nineteen Forties and returned to Texas along with her sons, but music became an afterthought as she raised them. She stayed out of the highlight until after that they had graduated from highschool, when she went to see the Dixieland trumpeter Al Hirt play in Latest Orleans.

Mr. Hirt recognized Ms. Tobin and asked her to sing with the band. A recording of the show made its solution to the jazz critic and producer George Simon, who asked her to record more songs and sing at jazz festivals.

Ms. Tobin was reluctant, but Mr. Simon persuaded her to sing at smaller venues in Latest York until she felt as much as performing before a big audience. In time her confidence returned, and she or he gave a stirring performance on the Newport Jazz Festival in 1962.

While she rebuilt her profession, Ms. Tobin began singing with Mr. Hucko’s ensemble. Mr. Hucko, who was best known for his stints alongside Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller and his appearances on Lawrence Welk’s television show, became her most enduring collaborator.

After their marriage, they owned and ran a jazz club in Colorado, recorded tribute albums to Mr. Goodman and Mr. Armstrong and toured in Europe, Japan and Australia, where they performed for Prince Charles and Princess Diana. They often sang duets onstage, including a version of “When You’re Smiling,” which was on the 1992 album “Swing That Music,” their final studio recording together.

Mr. Hucko died in 2003, after which Ms. Tobin retired.

Mary Louise Tobin was born on Nov. 11, 1918, in Aubrey, Texas, north of Dallas, and grew up nearby in Denton. Her father, Hugh, died in a fuel truck crash when she was young, and her oldest brother, Ray, opened a drugstore to assist support the family. The youngsters often sang together, but Ms. Tobin was the just one who became an expert singer.

She went on the road before completing highschool, first traveling with an older sister as a chaperone. Her family was initially shocked by her marriage to Mr. James, but in time they accepted him.

After their divorce, Ms. Tobin lived on alimony and what she earned from the occasional show or recording. But she spent most of her time caring for her two sons, including during a worrisome time. Mr. James had received threats that his children may very well be kidnapped, prompting Ms. Tobin to remain on the move. She lived along with her boys in California for a time and enrolled them in military school. She spent two years traveling with them to places like Hawaii, India and Egypt.

Along with her sons she is survived by many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

In interviews, Ms. Tobin expressed little regret about her interrupted profession and infrequently said that she felt grateful that she had an element in big band jazz at the peak of its popularity.

“I feel like that was an actual era of contribution to the culture of the world,” she said.

Jack Kadden contributed reporting.

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