Singer and army sweetheart in the Forties, who worked with showbiz greats like Sinatra
Published 06/11/2011 | 05:00
Beryl Davis, who has died aged 87, was a British-born swing-band singer who performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the Second World War and went on to work with some of the biggest names in showbusiness, including Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope.
The daughter of British big band leader Harry Davis, Beryl was born on March 16, 1924 in the Palace Theatre, Plymouth -- "because my father had a band on the road", as she explained. She began performing with her father as a child, dodging the school truancy officers. At the age of 12 she toured France and Scandinavia with Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt in their all-string jazz band, Quintette du Hot Club de France.
In the early years of the Second World War, Beryl Davis sang with Grappelli and the pianist George Shearing in a group that performed in London clubs throughout the Blitz. Then, in 1944, she was snapped up by Glenn Miller to sing with his orchestra of the Eighth Air Force and soon became a favourite with American servicemen.
Despite Miller's reputation for being dour and a hard taskmaster, Beryl Davis recalled that she had "nothing but affection" for the bandleader. She sang during the Glenn Miller Orchestra's last performance in Piccadilly on December 10, 1944, before Miller disappeared in mysterious circumstances when flying over the English Channel to entertain troops in France. "I had just finished my two songs for the evening -- I'll Be Seeing You and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square -- and was sitting offstage when Glenn walked by and touched my shoulder," she recalled. 'Good show, kid!' he told me. The last thing on my mind was that those would be his last words to me -- or that I'd never see him again."
After the war Bob Hope took Beryl Davis to Hollywood to appear on The Bob Hope Show. She thought she would be in America for only six weeks, but when she was invited by Frank Sinatra to be his singing partner on Your Hit Parade, America's biggest radio show in the late Forties, she decided to stay. Sinatra, she recalled, was "a perfect gentleman".
In 1948 she married the Hollywood radio and television personality Peter Potter, with whom she had three children.
Beryl Davis went on to sing with musicians including Benny Goodman and Louis Armstrong. In 1954, with her friends Jane Russell, Della Russell and Connie Haines, she formed a gospel quartet which had a huge hit that year with Do Lord. Rhonda Fleming later replaced Della Russell, and the girls toured together until 1984.
After her marriage was dissolved in 1965, Beryl Davis became the partner of Buck Stapleton, a former drummer with the Glenn Miller Orchestra who had made a successful career in business, promoting entertainments on cruise liners.
In 1974 Beryl Davis joined the cruise ship circuit, performing mostly on the Princess Line. She toured the oceans for the next three decades and continued to appear in nightclubs, singing standards such as When the World Was Young, Here's That Rainy Day and Baby Baby, All the Time.
Buck Stapleton died in 2003, and Beryl Davis, who died on October 28, is survived by her three children.