TEXAS JAZZ SINGER
Born Mary Louise Tobin in Aubrey, Texas, on the day the First World War ended (11th November 1918), she was one of 11 siblings. When her father Hugh was killed in a car crash, the family moved to nearby Denton, where she grew up.
She was a keen singer and was appearing on stage aged just 12, with the North Texas Stage Band. She was also a regular singer at her high school.
She then entered and won a talent show hosted by a Dallas radio station. She had to stand on a box to reach the microphone – but it opened a new world to her.
By the age of 16 she was a regular at the Sylvan Club near Arlington and was appearing in theatres in both Dallas and Houston. She had to be chaperoned by an older sister. “I was thrilled. My fulfilment was not to have to wash dishes.”
Then she was picked up by the Art Hicks Band and became their lead singer. She was noted for her husky throated voice. Also in the band was trumpeter Harry James who was three years older than her. They fell in love and got married – and would eventually have 2 sons, Harry Junior and Jerin Timothyray a.k.a. ‘Tim’.
During a concert in Greenwich Village she was heard by music producer John Hammond. He persuaded his friend, bandleader Benny Goodman to come and listen to her. She was immediately invited to join his band, and Harry was signed up too. They had a string of hits like ‘There’ll Be Some Changes Made’.
Johnny Mercer wrote the ‘Louise Tobin Blues’ for her.”
In the late 1930s Harry decided to leave Benny Goodman and start his own band – but he had no male lead singer. One night on the road, staying in a motel (The Lincoln Hotel), Harry fell asleep. Louise tuned into the radio. She got a New Jersey station, coming from Rustic Cabin, Englewood. She heard a young waiter with a fabulous voice, singing. Louise woke Harry up.
“I heard this boy singing and thought ‘There’s a fair singer’, so I woke Harry and said, ‘Honey, you might want to hear this kid on the radio.”
Harry was very impressed. He immediately travelled to New Jersey to try to recruit the waiter. As he entered the Rustic Cabin he asked for the singer. The manager told him, “We have no singer, but we have an MC-cum- waiter who sings a bit. He’s a damn good waiter.”
The waiter’s name? Frank Sinatra.
He asked Frank to sing him a song and Sinatra sung ‘Night and Day’ unaccompanied.
Harry immediately offered him a one-year contract at $75 a week. Frank accepted but Harry told him he had to change his name to Frank Satin.
Frank refused point blank. He had once tried to change his name before, but his mother had given him such a telling off that he dare not risk it again. Sinatra it remained.
Louise refused to take any credit for the discovery of Sinatra. “Harry deserves the credit. I just woke him up.”
Frank moved on after a year, being ‘poached’ by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
She sang with Will Bradley and his Orchestra and with Bobby Hackett.
The family moved to Los Angeles and Louise gave up singing to bring her family up. Harry was getting into making music for the Hollywood film industry. “We were more trying to establish Harry than we were trying to establish me.”
But Harry had a “roving eye” and was soon having affairs. He and Louise divorced in 1943.
He was soon remarried – to screen icon Betty Grable.
Louise sang with Tommy Jones, Emil Coleman, Skippy Anderson and Ziggy Elman – and their respective bands, before moving back to Texas with her boys and giving up singing all over again.
After a few years away from music, and when the boys had grown up, Louise was persuaded to make a comeback in 1962, at the Newport Jazz Festival.
It was there she met Michael ‘Peanuts’ Hucko, a clarinet player. They would get married 5 years later (1967).
The New Yorker reviewed her performance at Newport. “Louise Tobin sings like the young Ella Fitzgerald.”
Peanuts and Louise started performing together. They played a regular stint at the Blues Alley in Washington DC and at Odessa Jazz Parties.
When they married, they moved to Denver, Colorado and opened their own establishment, the ‘Navarre Supper Club’.
In 1974 Peanuts Hucko got the gig of leading the Glenn Miller Orchestra (many years after Miller died but still going strong). She joined the orchestra as vocalist.
In 1977 they recorded Benny Goldman’s classic ‘There’ll Be Some Changes Made’ on the LP ‘San Diego Jazz Club Plays the Sound of Jazz’. The song became the audience favourite.
They left the orchestra in the early 1980s, joining the ‘Pied Piper Quartet’. They toured Europe, Australia and Japan (as well as the USA). They had two hit albums, ‘Tribute to Louis Armstrong’ and ‘Tribute to Benny Goodman’.
Harry James died in 1983.
In 1992 they recorded the vocal duet ‘When You’re Smiling’. It was on their LP ‘Swing That Music’. It was the last recording they ever did together.
Peanuts Hucko died in 2003.
In 2008, Louise donated her massive personal library to the Texas A&M University. It included musical arrangements, press cuttings, programmes, playbills, photographs and masses of recordings. The university named it the ‘Tobin Hucko Jazz Collection’.
In 2021 a biography of her was published, written by Kevin Mooney. It was entitled ‘Texas Jazz Summer – Louise Tobin in the Golden Age of Swing and Beyond’.
In 2022, Louise appeared on television in the ‘Hot Jazz Saturday Night’ programme.
She died three weeks later at her granddaughter’s house in Carrollton, Texas.
RIP – Records Involving Peanuts