Betty Hutton

26 11 2009

Betty Hutton (February 26, 1921 – March 11, 2007)


There was a hole. In the backyard. Where Betty buried her secret. A girlish delight. We’ll dig it up when we are much older. Hope shivered. In her bony legs. The little kid called ‘Tackspitter’. Sang for bleeding thumbs. Repentant saints. Biblical scum. Here that slap. Windshield wipers. And the sweet police.  Grabbing Betty’s mother’s. Ass. Escorting the family. Out of town. Like it was an apple. And they were the worm. They would sing. Hoping to embarrass good fortune. ‘Don’t say goodbye. Just say until we meet again.’

Ceiling fans. Chopped up her name. Liverwurst. Betty became. The high priestess of frenzy. Jitterbugging. Thrashed around so violently. Orgasm in the orchestra pit. The drummer sued her for assault. Her lover confessed. It was too much. Too much of the same old shit. But Betty had a miracle. It was hidden in her secret.

Indian owner Bill Veeck held funeral services to bury the 1948 pennant. Christine Jorgenson. Went under the knife. The 1st person to undergo a sex-change operation. Betty’s mother bought Clarence Birdseye 1st bag of frozen peas. And chipped her tooth.

On Broadway. On radio. In Hollywood. In movies. Where does she get all that energy? Success was satin sheets. Soiled. Cigarette veneer. Stains on the lamp shades. And that pool. Shaped like a kidney. Dr. Caligari’s cabinet. Without the cure.

Oh God! Let me fall in love! Some words sound better in music. Bouncing Betty. From lap to lap. Let’s call some friends, and have a party! Marriage. Kids. Sleeping pills. Divorce. Life moves so fast. When you’re never around.

On her knees weeping in the shower. The water swirling so perfectly down the drain. Down and out as the jitterbug Detroit juke box queen. On the sticky floors in the local music hall. Down with feathers & tears and a local boy. His future choking your throat. Down the paint red ran. In the long halls of miserable hotels. Painted so garish. On Avenue Marlene. Down in the kitchen. In St. Jude Parish. Patron saint of the hopeless. On her knees before her broken hearted lovers. Weeping in her tower. Down lip stick smeared. Across painted skin. Where was her secret buried? 86’d. Daddy ran off with suicide. Mommy ran a speak easy for the dead. None of Betty’s kids showed up. At the funeral…


Ethel Waters

22 11 2009

Ethel Waters (October 31, 1896 – September 1, 1977)

Troubles are what you make them. Mother was 13. A brash little girl with buck teeth. Raped by a man with webbed hands. Ethel was born in a manger. Where the horses undress. Dragged around like a rag doll. Through the swamp. And the smell of giant tupelo and bald cypress.

Look at all those extra stars. In heaven. Born in the darkness. Ethel bathed. In a big lard can. Until she was 13. Ethel was given away. Like a second hand kitchen chair. To a big barrel of a man. A smile three blocks wide. Fucked her for fun. Beat her when he got bored. But all good things must end. He left. She was left. To fend for herself.

Worked as a maid. In a whorehouse. 9 until unconsciousness. Sang in dives. The smell of drunks. And stale beer. And late night confessions. Hearts torn by what they hated and loved. Worked the black vaudeville circuit. Mostly for food and applause.

President Truman increased. The minimum wage. From 40 cents to 75. J Edgar Hoover gave Shirley Temple. A tear gas fountain pen. And some advice. Don’t let anyone get too close to you at night.

Fell in love. Ethel was jealous. He was in love. With heroin. Happiness is a fist. Saved by World War Two. He went to Europe to find his soul. Ethel went to California. On the City of San Francisco.

Nominated for an Academy Award. Pinky.

Thief robbed her. Jewelry and cash. Some say it was a fella. With a big barrel of a smile. Who threatened to go to the papers. With a story about her life. Ethel went back to working for tips.

Found Jesus in a trailer park. Under the big tent. Toured with Billy Graham.  Oh how she envied the Catholics. And the smell of ashes. The splinters. And the fog of forgiveness. Where you could forget all your sins. And laugh at the son climbing down from his tree.

Sometimes it seems. You will live forever. Until its gone. Like the smell of dew and flowers. Buried in the morning sun.

Dinah Shore

16 11 2009

Dinah Shore (February 29, 1916 – February 24, 1994)


Blue skies from shore to shore. Crutches in the ballrooms. Blondes lining Arlington Cemetery. With tears that should have stopped wars. Big frilly dresses. Puffy sleeves. In the golden days of America. When men wore straight pants. Women in church. Were on their knees. Praying to the lance instead of to Christ. 1950s. And life was perfect.

Dinah kept a diary. Mommy’s advice. Don’t let your mouth turn the milk. Chin up. And smile. A million eyes watched Dinah every Sunday evening. You could hear her black and white laughter. Fill their hearts. America was in love. With being blonde.

Richie Ashburn fouled a ball.  Hit Alice Roth twice. In the same at bat. 1st one broke her nose. 2nd one hit her. While she was on the stretcher. Enraged a white mob. Little Rock Arkansas. Forced 9 black students. Who had started high school. To withdraw. It was the bottom of the third. And America had a new home movie. It was called the ‘The Battle of Los Angeles’. UFOs attacked the city of angels. Through the smog. And the alleys. And all their mighty ships were shot down. But no one could find. Where they had crashed. And Dinah kept smiling. That smile. In the back seat of a Chevrolet. Her leg draped over yours. Laughter that was contagious. The touch. Of her fingers on your lips. Sent shivers. Through your teeth.

Dinah loved Tarzan. And his jungle. A general named Moose. And his jingles. Singers. In alphabetical order. It might have been the Cantabile Choirs Of Kingston. A drummer. From the old school. Several actors named Jimmy. A senator. Who wanted to be President.

Dinah. Loved to start her weekends. In that wide eyed glee. I’ll sing to him, each spring to him. And worship the trousers that cling to him.

Halloween. Ed Gein butchered his last victim. The fight for cancer was lost. And Dinah passed. Throwing a kiss. Across America. To that drunk. At the end of the bar. In Tonawanda. To the professor. Sleeping with his assistant in Baltimore. That waitress in Tucson. Feet swollen. All Dinah’s lovers sighed. And all those little girls. Dyed blondes. In suburban homes. Felt like something inside. Was gone.

Nina Simone

13 11 2009


Nina Simone (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003)


Blood in the fountains. Ropes dripping from trees. Whispering in the bar rooms. Electric lights flickering. At last Jesus breaths. Again. Raining so hard. Water canons. Mississippi mongrels. Teeth so white. Snarling at the end of their chain.

Elegant fingers. Fred Astaires. Dancing across the ivory. Large hard eyes. Filled with softness and pain. Nina. A voice like an exotic flower. So much anger. So much injustice. So many men falling into holes. In other men’s flesh. Too much stupidity. Too much vulgarity. Too much nothing.

She wept into the microphone. No one will ever be happy in this country. Except at the end of a gun. Nina sat silently. Patiently. Would not move. The world is mad. Like a dog. If I tip toe across the stage, will it catch me? Would someone kiss me on the breast. And clear the fog. From my eyes.

Sang Mississippi Goddam. A Baptist bombed. Church in Alabama. 4 dead children. Who were playing with their dolls. Which were white. If I sing with anger, will it leave me alone? Will it not sneak up. At night. And grab me. By the ankle. Or a lock of my hair.

The world is filled with terrors. The bookie man wears a badge. Or a three piece suit. He smiles from the front row. Or you’re bedroom. His jacket torn at the shoulder. Like Jesus crucified in tweed.

Running. From the black wolves. Of night. Driving her car through the narrow streets. The madly French darkness. I tell you, everyone is going to die. Such a shame. Wouldn’t it be lovely to do this all over again?

After Nina died they took her ashes. Like an old rocking chair out on the verandah. And scattered her laughter. Over the African savannah.


Jo Stafford

11 11 2009


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Jo Stafford (November 12, 1917 – July 16, 2008)

The Chesterfield Supper Club. Radio Show. Where dinner was never served. Singing tongue in cheek. A lot of coughing. Jo Stafford. Entertained. Perfect pitch. She could have played for the Yankees.

Outside in the alley. Three wise men danced a jig. Knocking at every door. Not lovers. Messengers. Crooners out of tune. The 1st Polaroid. Pornographic pictures. Of  Miranda. Uranus’s famous moon.

(Time hardly seems to move at all.)

A paramour in the closet. A letter in the vanity. Feelings both brave and lonely. A shadow stood in the corner. A stocking flung over his shoulder. Smiling. She threw an ashtray. Wondering how long he would stay.

We didn’t get married and he’s dead now. I hear it every time I tear up. Because I never stopped loving him. The interviewer wept. Moments later. Jo died. At age 90. Let’s grieve. But not yet.

Watch the fog set over the harbour. A flash of light was observed in a crater. On the moon.  Like a spotlight. On the stage. And a beautiful blond. Singing goodbye.

Sinatra stood at the microphone. A cigarette in his fingers. Some kind of disruption behind. Turned around. There stood grinning Satchel Paige. At 42. Pitched his 1st major league complete game. Took that white ball. And painted it. Transparent.

Old sailors no longer get their pants pressed. And the fleet is sleeping. In the noon day shade. The dust has settled. The war was won. And the retirement homes are run by government men. Dying of congestive heart failure. Jo Stafford leaned. Her cheek. Against the moon. And smiled one last time.

Glenn Taylor. Such a tall man. Idaho Senator. Arrested in Birmingham. Alabama. For walking through a door. Marked “for Negroes”. And Jo Stafford left us. Almost without saying a word. And it wouldn’t have mattered if you had heard.

Maxine Sullivan

8 11 2009


Maxine Sullivan (May 13, 1911 – April 7, 1987)


Daddy cut hair. As the world did a couple of twirls. Maxine Sullivan of Twelfth Street swept up the floor. And the customers read. The Free Press. Howard Hughes set the transcontinental air record. The Hindenburg exploded in flames. Laughing. In the Sahara Desert it rained. And big Mike’s wife. Half his size. Beat him with a rolling pin.

If the Pirates weren’t on the front page. It was September. Red Sox acquired 19-year-old Ted Williams. April so far away. All the hope for love seemed lost forever. But little Maxine would sing. And all the customers. Would listen. Amongst all the noise. Tyrants in Europe. The boss at work. Maxine had spring in her voice.

Elmer J Fudd flew. Waldo Waterman’s Arrowbiles. Over Spain. Unloaded laughs. As  Picasso’s unwanted paint. Poured down upon. The Basque town. Of Guernica.

One weekend. Maxine took a bus. And did not return. Loch Lomond. An odd song. For a little black girl. To build a career upon. Little Maxine was “Going Places” in the twentieth century. With Louis Armstrong when he was king. With Ronald Reagan before he was president.

Henry Ford initiated the 32 hour work week. Spam. The luncheon meat. Introduced by the Hormel Foods Corporation. Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Opened to rave reviews.

And then one day. Maxine. Stepped off the stage. In an age of selflessness. What is the point to all of this? There was a child. To raise. Out of the limelight. And stayed… for years.

In an attic. A Rembrandt of a photograph. Gathered dust. A street in Harlem. With nappy haired boys sitting on the curb. And behind them. Charles Mingus . Thelonious Monk . Count Basie . Gene Krupa . Coleman Hawkins . Lester Young . Gerry Mulligan . Art Blakey . Buck Clayton . Bill Crump . Roy Eldridge… and the list kept going on.

A young boy pointed to a shy little lady. Maxine Sullivan. Standing on the sidewalk. Of the photograph. Next to the gods. And the newspaper stand.

And said – That lady is my mom.

The Andrew Sisters

6 11 2009

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The Andrew Sisters (1911 –


Momma was a crusader. Daddy was a peach. Teutonic castles. Rolled across the rustic hills. Dressed up in tights. Inside dreams. Out of reach. Teach. Me to sing. And bob for apple cores. Roy. Joy. Life was so sweet. In the twin cities.

Death March. Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen. Jews. From Moldavia. Trains. Out of Mechelen. Klaus Barbie and Ann Frank. Hand in hand. Every child of God. Gets their own little yellow star. Those were golden days.

And the war raged on. In the kitchens of America. Listening to the USO. On the radio. Three little girls. Lungs like trumpets. In the fresh April breeze. Sweethearts. Singing at full volume. Through the air. Across the seas.

And the war raged on. The sisters sang on. About hugging. And kissing under an apple tree. Sang about bugles. In company D. Sang about jumping up. For those boys in their boats. In their tents. In their tanks. Brushing their teeth. Eating that grub. Sinking those subs.

Patty married Marty. Lavergne complained about a headache. Patty mentioned that it might be the hole in her heart. Maxene got drunk on rum and egg nog. And had a dream. Where a white man was dancing with his dog.

Hitler loved his children. He kept them warm. Some graduated from university. And flew to the moon. Others wished they’d never been born.

2500 women trampled guards. Trying to purchase. 1500 alarm clocks. In a Chicago department store. Uprising. At Auschwitz. The Jews trampled the guards. And burned down the crematoriums. But time was going up in smoke.

And the war raged on. Hal Newhouser was named AL MVP. In reprisal. 40 Dutch men were hung. Like apples. From the trees.

Singing songs for Wrigley’s Chewing Gum. Doles’ Pineapple. Never forgetting Franco-American. Promised to meet those service boys. When the war ended. In the soda shop. Dance and sing. Make them laugh. But on that day of reveille. Not all the uniforms, showed up.


Sarah Vaughan

4 11 2009


Sarah Vaughan (March 27, 1924 – April 3, 1990)

Little Sarah stood at the top. Of the stairs. In her Sunday dress. Come on down, little darling. We need you. Little Sarah remained still. The stairs were steep. Her lip was quivering. But the walls kept whispering. Don’t be afraid.  We need you now. At another time. In Birmingham. A bomb was placed. Next to the rectory. 4 little girls. In the choir. Stopped singing.

The Apollo. In Harlem. Mid-afternoon. A shy little girl stepped onto the stage. The hall was filled. With cigarette smoke and laughter. At another hall. George C. Wallace swore. Segregation now; segregation tomorrow; segregation forever! Little Sarah sat at the piano. The little girl in the yellow smoke. Sang about being humbled. By love.

Martin stepped up to the microphone. And fell into a dream. Dylan grabbed his guitar and coat. And walked off the Ed Sullivan Show. Sarah sat mesmerized. In front of the television set. Kennedy’s future met his past. And on live television. Oswald turned toward the camera. And was murdered.

Afraid to look up. At the strangers. In the shadows. To listen. To the voices in the darkened rooms. Afraid not to join. With the angels in her songs. Afraid of the dusk. Afraid of the dawn. Another cigarette. Fingers so yellow. With nicotine. Afraid to be alone. The silence used to hold her like a mother.

Fear is another lover. You can’t depend upon.

Lips aflame with lyrics. The jangled flutter. Of the music. The band playing in the attic. Or a small club in the Village. The drums kept everyone in place. The stand-up bass a heart beat. Oh, lets waltz. On the bare floor. Through the cool darkness. Lets milk the stillness. And dance forever.

Maybe there were days. Filled with laughter, friends, and joy. Maybe there were rainy afternoons. With nothing much to do. Another cigarette. An umbrella. Another man. Dieing of lung cancer. Ventilators. Chemotherapy. And other jazz standards.

Dinah Washington

1 11 2009


Dinah Washington (August 29, 1924 – December 14, 1963)

Smoke filled her words. Fog filled rooms. Gentlemen prayed. Barbie dolls on their knees. The Dutch Princess Wilhelmina published. “Lonely, but not alone”. And Dinah could feel that hand. Flesh on her bones.

Thump thump goes the base line. The piano keys rattling. The beautiful negro singer. Opens her mouth. A butterfly on the end of a pin. Is it pain she feels? Or is it part of the show? Automobiles waited at the curb. Filling the air with song. And the taxis moved. Randomly through the avenues. Carbon monoxide is such a sweet drink. In the late afternoon.

Her voice was light. Drifted off. Into the damp evening air. Bounced off the sun. Dresses fell below bony knees. Promises were made. Kisses were laid. She placed the microphone. Between her parting lips.

Ladies and gentleman, I am an evil gal. I have been married 8 times. Who would have thought there were so many Sundays?

The far side of the moon was seen. For the first time. It was a great disappointment. Dinah was doing gigs in clubs. Detroit to Montreal. Playing piano in Sallie Martin’s gospel choir. Nikita Khrushchev was denied access. To Disneyland. Even when he offered to pay twice.

Dinah loved to wear mink. In the pouring rain. Some said that mink was her real skin. Sang from the heart. Sang from the gutter. A couple of 45-caliber pistols in her purse. And worse.

A bottle of sleeping pills. Lay sleeping at her side. “Sleeping Beauty” released. Some of the pills had escaped. Into Dinah’s empty stomach. Dr Leakey discovered the oldest human skull. 600,000 years old. Dinah was only 39. And what would Dinah have said? To the audience. Prisoners to her next breath?

So many evenings I wanted to die, but this wasn’t one of them.