Ella Mae Morse passed away in Bullhead City Arizona
Sat. October 16th, 1999 at 8:58 PM.
The former Capital Records Gold Record recording star, and "Dallas Dark Horse", died from complications due to cancer. She is survived by her husband of 40 years, Jack Bradford, her six children, Laura Bradford of Bullhead City, AZ., Dan Bradford of Lomita, CA., Kenny Kendall, Marcia Mar of Sacramento, Anne Prewitt of Bellevue, WA, Dick Gerber of Prescott Arizona, plus several grandchildren and great grandchildren.
A Memorial Service was held Thursday, October 28th
Hope Chapel in Hermosa Beach, California with hundreds of family, friends and fans in attendance. Pastor Chris Cannon led the service and there was a video presentation lovingly assembled by one of Ella's sons, Dan Bradford. Jazz great, Gerald Wiggins, played a piano number at the memorial. Ella Mae Morse touched so many lives and will be missed greatly by all who knew her and her music over the years.
Watch and Listen to Ella Mae Morse on YouTube!
Ella Mae in 1949
Mare Island Naval Hospital
17 Tang Street
Ella Mae with Dick Ryan and Dickie
San Diego 1946
I was finally able to sit down with
my Mother a few years ago and I came to realize that she did the best job she knew how in trying to raise me.
Good grief, she was a big star and just a kid herself! We were able to talk about those days and put away some of the
pain we both had carried for years.
The little boy that lives in me will always love his Mommy, but I'm sorry to say that the grownup never got a chance to become friends with her. Funny, I think we were both okay with that. She finally stopped beating herself up for what she thought was a bad job being a Mother, and I was able realize that she did the best job she knew how to do in a very tough time in her life. I am so glad we took the time to talk about those things. She was one of the greatest singers of her time. Rest in peace Mommy....you're not forgotten now, and....you never were.
Ella Mae and Johnny Mercer
Ella Mae's voice.
Ella Mae Morse was one of the most exciting vocalists of the 1940s and 50s, a hard-to-classify, Texas-born white singer who knocked everyone out with her hip, black-inflected vocals from the moment she hit the scene as a seventeen-year-old with boogie pianist Freddie Slack's Orchestra in 1942. Her vocal that year on the huge hit Cow Cow Boogie, quickly established her as a name, and dozens of hits followed, both with Slack and under her own name. Sides like the Buzz Me, The House Of Blue Lights, Pig Foot Pete, The Blacksmith Blues remain classics, and The House Of Blue Lights, in particular, has been hailed as one of the seminal recordings in rock and roll history. Uncommonly versatile, Ella Mae could handle anything, from jazz to country, from R&B to lush pop. As she herself has said, Cliffie Stone said: 'You're a country singer.' And Benny Carter said: 'You're a jazz singer.' T-Bone Walker said: 'You're a rock and roll-blues singer.'
Ella Mae Morse got her big break at a young age with Jimmy Dorsey's orchestra. There are two stories about her short stay with Dorsey. One is that she called for an audition when the band was booked at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. Needing a female singer, Jimmy listened, liked her and hired her. She claimed to be 19, but was really 13, and later, when Jimmy received a notice from the school board that he was responsible for her, he fired her.
The other story tells that Jimmy discovered the 15-year-old Ella Mae at a Houston jam session. She had borrowed carfare to get to the session and walked out with a Dorsey contract. Soon after, the Dallas pares referred to here as "The Dallas Dark Horse". But she lacked experience and was undisciplined. Singer Bob Erbely recalls that on one radio program, she forgot the lyrics to one song and started ad libbing as to that fact, and on another song she sang an alternate set of risqué lyrics that was banned by the network. Dorsey fired her after only a month, having hired Helen O'Connell in her place.
The first story seems to be the ''official'' one, while the second is how Dorsey band members and music journalists of the time remembered it. Age-wise, the second story fits with the chronology of Jimmy Dorsey's orchestra.
Whatever the truth, young Ella Mae apparently made a good impression on Dorsey band member Freddie Slack. Three years later, in 1942, he hired her to sing with his new orchestra. It was there she had her biggest hit with ''Cow Cow Boogie,'' Capitol Records' first gold single. She was not under contract when the song was recorded and once told me she was only paid $35.00 for the song. Capitol signed her afterwards. She left Slack a year later and continued recording solo for Capitol into the mid fifties.
Ella Mae signing with, her good friend and my natural father, Dick Ryan pictured below right.
Reveille with Beverly
South of Dixie (1944)
Ghost Catchers (1944)
How Do You Do (1946)
"She was all of the above and then some: an instinctive, insouciant, sexy stylist with an innate feel for the blues that colored and characterized virtually everything she sang. Ella Mae Morse's entire output over her fifteen year tenure with Capitol Records (1942-1957), a label she helped put on the map. Ella Mae worked with the likes of Freddie Slack, Benny Carter, Barney Kessel, Gerald Wiggins, Pete Johnson, Jimmy Rowles, Red Callender, Al Hendrickson, Jimmy Bryant, Speedy West, Alvin Stoller, and countless others."
In later years, Ella Mae could be found at Disneyland in Anaheim singing with her old friends Ray McKinley and Bob Crosby. Once a year she teamed up with her best friend Martha Ray to do a benefit show on the East Coast. They both had the same wacky sense of humor and could make each other actually fall down laughing.
My Mothers sister was Flo Cohn (Handy) a great jazz signer in her own right. She was married to jazz greats Al Cohn and George Handy. While I don't remember Al Cohn, I have fond memories of my Uncle George. I kept in contact with my Aunt Flo until she passed away in 1996. Sadly, Ella Mae and her sister Flo were estranged and never spoke to one another since the 1960's.
"Smokey and Intimate" was a jazz album featuring Al Cohn with Flo as the vocalist. That woman could really sing!
Flo Cohn Handy
Ella Mae in 1952
Marvin L. Gerber, U.S.N. Circa 1944
Somewhere around 1946, Ella Mae met an married a young Navy Doctor, Marvin L. Gerber. They went on to have two daughters and Marvin adopted me. Their marriage only lasted a few years, and all three of us kids stayed with Marvin Gerber in Bethesda, Maryland. I did not see my Mother again until 1957 while she was living in Reno, Nevada. Marvin Gerber continued his Navy career and ended up as a full Captain and Chief of Surgery at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital where he retired from the Navy in 1961. He went into private practice in Marin County. My Dad passed away just after his 85th birthday and was interned at Arlington Cemetery with full military honors. He always had a soft spot for Ella Mae.....she had a way of doing that....