Saturday, June 18, 2011

Torch Songs

Torch Singers
Clockwise from Top Left: Lena Horne, Peggy Lee, Julie London, Anita O'Day, Gladys Knight, and Etta James.

With a nod to Father's Day, I thought I would just compile a group of glorious lady torch singers, and let them tempt and tease their way over a drink and a smoke. Much of their music can conger up images of smokey clubs with a piano and a woman at the microphone, a little worn by the world. Men loved the torch singers - the straight men wanted to sleep with them, the gay boys wanted to be them, with their hearts broken over some no-good thug. Drag Queens were them, often twice a night on the weekends.

A clear example of a classic torch singer would be Julie London singing Cry Me A River. Long before she played nurse 'Dixie' on Emergency!, she was stopping hearts when she sang jazz classics.

While everyone knows our next singer for the timeless beauty of At Last, it was far from the only song she sang. Etta James not only sang I'd Rather Go Blind, she also reportedly wrote the lyrics. She is performing the song in the clip with Dr. John.

Miss Peggy Lee spend six decades singing, starting with a time as the vocalist for the Benny Goodman Band. She could do it all, whether it was the wronged woman, the coquette, or or the wise friend, she poured an honesty into her work. Check her out singing Why Don't You Do Right? with the Benny Goodman Band.

When I first thought of this post, I knew I wanted Miss Lena Horne to be a part of it. What I didn't want was to post yet another clip of her singing Stormy Weather. She is way too good to be defined by that one song. So I found this, a clip of Miss Horne sings You'd Better Love Me.

Our next singer shattered the image of the 'girl singer' back in the day. Instead of showing up to sing in a ballgown, she would appear in a skirt and a jacket that would match the band. But that isn't where it ended. She had her own style, was more rhythmic in her singing, her musicality. That should come as no surprise, as she also played the drums. Here is Anita O'Day as she sings My Funny Valentine.

It is tough to figure out what to say about the great Gladys Knight that hasn't been said already. She first came to the attention of the public when she won on the great-grandfather of American Idol, Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour television show in 1952, when she was just seven years old. In the 60s, she was signed to Motown Records, and has been a star since, almost 50 years later. Watch the clip as Gladys sings Please Send Me Someone To Love with accompaniment by the amazing and illustrious BB King.

Hope you enjoyed the ladies who carry their light with a big torch!


  1. As one of the Drag Queens who "does" these ladies frequently I applaud you! There are some TRUE divas up in this post!

    There are also some great "torchy" numbers from Ella Fitz and Sarah Vaughn that I love to do, along with Nancy Wilson and the incomparable Dame SB!!

  2. Miss G, thank you! There are so many singers, and so many songs, this might become a series. And I loved putting it together...



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