Secrets of a Blonde Bombshell

Feature

Friday, September 30, 2011

In the 1930s, Ina Ray Hutton conducted, tapped, and sang as the “blonde bombshell bandleader,” strutting her stuff in front of her all–female swing band, the Melodears. (You can’t make this stuff up.) She led bands through the 1950s — in clubs, in movies, on TV, on the USO circuit — and was the first female bandleader to be recorded and filmed. She wasn’t a legend or an innovator, but a hard–working musician who played a role in jazz history.

Decades later, a news reporter from KUOW in Seattle looked at one of her albums and felt something was odd: the blonde bombshell, she thought, might have been black. Phyllis Fletcher discovered that Ina Ray Hutton had been passing as white — hiding in the spotlight.  

 

Note: This story calls Hutton's Melodears the first all-girl band to be recorded and filmed.  A few all-girl bands were recorded or filmed earlier, including the Ingenues and Jean Rankin's Bluebells Orchestra. 

 

Video: Ina Ray Hutton and her Melodears perform “Truckin’”

    Music Playlist
  1. The Melodears Swing
    Artist: Ina Ray Hutton
    Album: Definitive Collection: 1934-1944
    Label: 101 Distribution
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Truckin'
    Artist: Ina Ray Hutton
    Album: Definitive Collection: 1934-1944
    Label: 101 Distribution
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Devil's Kitchen
    Artist: Ina Ray Hutton
    Album: Definitive Collection: 1934-1944
    Label: 101 Distribution
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Hallelujah
    Artist: Ina Ray Hutton
    Album: Definitive Collection: 1934-1944
    Label: 101 Distribution
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Cabin In The Sky
    Artist: Ina Ray Hutton
    Album: Definitive Collection: 1934-1944
    Label: 101 Distribution
    Purchase: Amazon
  6. Doin' the Suzi-Q
    Artist: Ina Ray Hutton
    Album: Definitive Collection: 1934-1944
    Label: 101 Distribution
    Purchase: Amazon
  7. Organ Grinder's Swing
    Artist: Ina Ray Hutton
    Album: Definitive Collection: 1934-1944
    Label: 101 Distribution
    Purchase: Amazon
  8. Wild Party
    Artist: Ina Ray Hutton
    Album: Definitive Collection: 1934-1944
    Label: 101 Distribution
    Purchase: Amazon

Contributors:

Phyllis Fletcher

Comments [58]

Melissa Ritz from New York City

I would love to connect with anyone who has a family member who toured with Ina Ray Hutton and The Melodears. Scott V and Gramsx6, would love to hear your stories!

I'm working on a one-woman show about the life of Ina Ray Hutton and any information about life on the road would be great! I've done plenty of research through archived newspapers, but I think there's something special about the stories that were shared away from the media.

Thanks~
Melissa

melissaritz@hotmail.com
https://www.facebook.com/JourneyOfABombshellInaRayHutton

Hi Phyllis! :)

Mar. 13 2014 11:56 PM
Rodney Allen from Columbus, Ohio

I come from a long...long...long line of "light skinned" and "fair skinned" blacks. Contrary to what most people know, most light skinned and fair skinned blacks that "passed" for white did not do so because they were ashamed of their black heritage...it was because they knew that in most cases and situations they would be granted better paying jobs, education, and housing if they passed. Most...if not majority...of blacks that have crossed over were "black" when at home and among family members, and white while in public. Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Brazilians and many other Hispanics acknowledge their African heritage prior to coming to the United States. However, it is only when they get to the United States is where they discover the overt racism that exist. Most Brazilians are of African heritage and mixed blood. Carol Channing is a perfect example of some that was not ashamed of her African heritage (Her Grandmother was black)...however, she knew that the only way that she could become successful and avoid discrimination was to pass for white. She later acknowledged all of this in her memoir. If most people had a DNA test done, there would be a hell of a lot of racist white people that would be very stunned to find that they have more African blood than white. Most people don't have a clue of my nationality when they lay eyes on me because I am light skinned or caramel colored...most assume Hispanic or other nationalities. However, I acknowledge my pride of being of African blood!!! I have many friends and relatives that could "pass". However, that will never happen. Just because we don't "look Black" does not mean that we are not Black...we are proud of our heritage...the Black Heritage more so than the White side of us!!!

Feb. 14 2014 08:10 PM
Rodney Allen from Columbus, Ohio

I come from a long...long...long line of "light skinned" and "fair skinned" blacks. Contrary to what most people know, most light skinned and fair skinned blacks that "passed" for white did not do so because they were ashamed of their black heritage...it was because they knew that in most cases and situations they would be granted better paying jobs, education, and housing if they passed. Most...if not majority...of blacks that have crossed over were "black" when at home and among family members, and white while in public. Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Brazilians and many other Hispanics acknowledge their African heritage prior to coming to the United States. However, it is only when they get to the United States is where they discover the overt racism that exist. Most Brazilians are of African heritage and mixed blood. Carol Channing is a perfect example of some that was not ashamed of her African heritage (Her Grandmother was black)...however, she knew that the only way that she could become successful and avoid discrimination was to pass for white. She later acknowledged all of this in her memoir. If most people had a DNA test done, there would be a hell of a lot of racist white people that would be very stunned to find that they have more African blood than white. Most people don't have a clue of my nationality when they lay eyes on me because I am light skinned or caramel colored...most assume Hispanic or other nationalities. However, I acknowledge my pride of being of African blood!!! I have many friends and relatives that could "pass". However, that will never happen. Just because we don't "look Black" does not mean that we are not Black...we are proud of our heritage...the Black Heritage more so than the White side of us!!!

Feb. 14 2014 08:04 PM
AD Powell

Ina Ray Hutton and her sister were white women with some mixed ancestry. Stop trying to claim them for the "black race."

http://www.amazon.com/Passing-Who-You-Really-Are/dp/0939479222

Dec. 14 2013 12:12 AM
Bill Harrington from NYC

Thanks for a great program in all respects. I love the era's popular culture.

I have long been interested in June Hutton, the sister of Ina Ray Hutton and mother of Susan, the niece of Ina Ray who speaks in the program. June Hutton succeeded Jo Stafford as the female singer of the Pied Pipers, one of the great, and most successful, of the harmonizing groups.

For instance, the Pied Pipers were an in-house group for Johnny Mercer and he featured June Hutton in many recordings, many of which, in turn, contained the racist references common to the day.

While the African ancestry of Ina Ray Hutton and June Hutton may have been known by some, was it generally known within the music world? And how easy would have been for June Hutton to vocalize the hearty "boy" and other ersatz slang that many white performers used in the 1940's?

Nov. 16 2013 12:43 PM
KLR from Oregon

I'm a big fan of Ina's sister, June Hutton, who sang with the Pied Pipers vocal quartet who performed with Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra and others. They sang alongside Frank Sinatra; Frank's early recordings were arranged by Axel Stordahl, who June married. June cut a pair of LPs in the 50s and various other sides. Her music was really sunshiny pop stuff, gorgeously arranged by Axel. A blogger covering your story said her niece "sounds like some old B-roll audiotape labeled “Oregon White Lady Voice.”" Being an Oregon native I find this really amusing, and perhaps apropos, or not unexpected.

Aug. 04 2013 10:49 PM
AllPeople (AP) Gifts [soaptalk AT hotmail DOT com] from USA

.
Modern society really needs to begin to
understand the simple fact that -- THERE
IS NO SUCH THING AS A so-called
'LIGHT-SKINNED BLACK' person.
.
The truth of the matter is that such individuals
are actually (and quite simply) people who are
of a 'Multi-Generational Multiracially-Mixed'
(MGM-Mixed) Lineage -- lineage that some of
them may have been pressured and / or otherwise
“encouraged" to ignore, downplay or even deny.
.
http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
.
THESE (falsely) “black-categorized”
INDIVIDUALS ARE, in actuality, the
people who are actually of a continually
MIXED-RACE lineage -- and the very
term, itself, of “Light-Skin(ned) Black”
is merely a racist-oxymoron that – (much
like the racist-‘One-Drop Rule’ upon
which this racist-term is actually based) –
was created by racial-supremacists in an
attempt to degrade Black blood lines.
.
THE ONLY WAY that a MIXED-RACE
person COULD BE viewed upon as being
racially-"BLACK" IS VIA an adherence
to THE RACIST-‘ONE-DROP RULE’.

THE RACIST-‘ONE-DROP RULE’ was a 100%
non-scientific, socially-constructed "rule" that
WAS CREATED by racial-supremacists in an
insulting attempt TO DEGRADE all BLACK
BLOOD LINEAGE – AND – which WAS also
LEGALLY-BANNED in the U.S. back IN 1967.
.
http://dir.groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.
The FACT that the racist-’One-Drop Rule’ was
created to DEGRADE Black blood lineage means
that any BLACK person who supports the (clearly
‘Black-Lineage Degrading') racist-'One-Drop Rule'
either has no self-esteem, is insane and / or is an idiot.
.
People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT
feel pressured to 'identify' according to
any standards other than one's own.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
.
There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'
(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed
as common entities -- within the continental U.S.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
.
It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) --
[a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus' (ROP)] -- and
NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) --
that was used to 'create more enslaved
people' on the continental U.S.
.
This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather
-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4238
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4239
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4240
.
An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the
same thing as a "Race" category:
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4236
.

Apr. 10 2013 01:48 PM
Sharon H Cranford from Wichita, Kansas

This entire "conversation" speaks to the need for the census to re- evaluate their classifications. People say "what difference does it make?" But we cannot ignore race or color because race and color will not ignore us. We do not need MORE classifications either. It is important for YOU to know who you are. The government can no longer impose that upon you, nor fix your confusion about it. All the gov't needs to know is whether or not discrimination is occuring because of your "race". Fact is, one would be hard put to find people who are not "mixed".

Feb. 22 2013 04:47 PM
Scott V

None of this matters. A person is a person. I was just 22 when Ina Ray Hutton passed away and I can tell you that she is the most talented and beautiful lady I've ever seen on stage. I'm proud to say that my Grandfather Jack Kelleher played the bass in her band at one time and I always enjoy watching the performance. Black, white, it makes no difference. I just wish I could see her perform in person. Beyond this world, where we are so confined, I may just be able to do so.

Jan. 21 2013 12:44 AM
Bob Jessup

Hi, my father was married to her for one year. He was a pugilist at the time. I am trying to find out more about her, plus I have a little bit of information. My email address is BobJessup@Live.com.

Dec. 09 2012 12:21 PM
AllPeople from USA


.
There is actually no such thing as a so-called "Light-Skinned
Black" person ... but rather ... such individuals and groups
are actually people who are of a 'Multi-Generational
Multiracially-Mixed' (MGM-Mixed) Lineage that some may
have been pressured or encouraged to ignore or downplay.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
.
People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT feel pressured to
'identify' according to any standards other than one's own.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157
.
The legal -application of the racist-'One-Drop Rule'
(ODR) was banned in the U.S. way back in 1967.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341891410164
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4187
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341281410225
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.
Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories
of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.
There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'
(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed
as common entities -- within the continental U.S.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
.
It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) -- [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus'
(ROP)] -- and NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) -- that was
used to 'create more enslaved people' on the continental U.S.
.
This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather
-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/309460495741441
.
There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault
and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which
'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of
enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4238
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4239
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4240
.
An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the
same thing as a "Race" category:
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4236
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/300777016632181
.
Other Topics:
.
https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/279223868853420
.
https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/164203590359746
.
http://www.facebook.com/notes/%C2%ADallpeople-gifts/the-facts-on-m%C2%ADixed-race/321878451159708
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.

Dec. 05 2012 08:08 PM
suzanne from Alabama

Madelaine from CA...I am a fan of big band music for several reasons. My father had a reel to reel recorder with all the music from that era you could think of and played it constantly from the time I was a baby. He was born in 1927. Love hearing about people that were young back then. He passed away in August. My question is more of a request. Tell me what life for her was like as a performer and most memorable experiences. What does she remember about Ina Ray?Send to my email if ya need to. curlysu5250@gmail.com

Dec. 01 2012 10:35 AM
Helen from NJ

I don't understand people. This lady, Ina, is predominantly white...therefore, she is white. We all migrated out of Africa so we are all black to some extent. But if you look white...you are white. The woman who 'outed' this woman, I believe, feels better about herself by doing so. I think it annoys her that this woman who has 'a little bit of her round lips and big cheeks' was accepted by whites. Why does this annoy her? Because she is 'more black'. That's right. She claims that she is often just mistaken for white. Google her. No, most people can still spot the black in her. Why is that? It is because she is part black...it's still a good part of her genetic make-up. This Ina lady is way less than that. Again, she is predominantly white...she is white! The 'outer' has a black woman's body and something in her face screams black to you. Why? Because the woman is HALF 50% black. She is jealous this woman 'passed' for what she IS--predominantly white! Crazy mulattos. Same with AD Powell. She is half black and hates latinos for having way less/no black and passing for what they are--mostly white/native! Black people are not happy that they LOOK like what they ARE--predominantly BLACK! Ina was WHITE. Get it?

Nov. 30 2012 12:10 PM

Madelaine ~

My aunts, the Three Burke Sisters (Peggy, Rita & Jeanne ~ singers) toured with Ina starting with the Texas Interstate Tour in November & December of 1935 and then at various theaters in January, March and May of 1936.

I am writing a book about their career for their Grandchildren and future generations. If your Mom was with Ina when they were and remembers anything about them, it would make what I am doing so much more meaningful.

Nov. 25 2012 01:45 AM
Sal

Back in those days if it were discovered that she was part black someone would have made it their duty to point it out, and she would not have been able to lead the band and perform anymore. That is our history. That is the reason why this is important. I'm sure she understood that and wanted the freedom to share her talent regardless. Dying her hair blonde probably helped throw people off and allowed her freedom.

There are many people who could have done this but chose not too. I'm sure that if Lena Horne had dyed her hair blonde and decided to pass, she could have pulled it off also.

I believe that many of today's multi-racial entertainers of partial black heritage would appreciate this story. (e.g., Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, etc.)

If you are a younger person who doesn't understand why this is so important, you might want to sit down with an older black or mixed-race person of partial heritage. They'll tell you all about it.

Oct. 07 2012 11:05 AM
dave from Minnesota

In response to the question "Who cares if she was black or white", there was a time in our country when people - and the law - cared a great deal about people's skin color and ancestry. It's important to remember this history. We won't defeat racism by pretending it never existed.

Jun. 14 2012 12:18 PM
DAN & SHER

LA TI DA. WHO CARES IF SHE WAS BLACK OR WHITE. SHE WAS GIFTED WITH A LOT OF TALENT AND WAS ENTERTAINING AS WELL GOOD LOOKING.

Jun. 13 2012 11:16 AM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Mr. or Ms. Powell, thanks for your comment, which you also emailed to me. I responded there as well. Here is a truncated version. I shortened it to avoid repetition of points I make in other comments.

Source documents from Ina's childhood support the finding that she and her family lived as black people until Ina was discovered by a white broadway producer. If Ina and her mother had been living today, they would have had much more freedom to call themselves something other than black or mulatto--including your terminology, "mixed-race white." Given what the source documents indicate, and how race was defined when Ina was a child, her family was part of a black society. In their contemporary terminology, they were considered "black," "mulatto," or "negro."

May. 28 2012 01:14 AM
AD Powell from Midwest

That would be mixed-race white, NOT "African American." I see no "African" race, culture or ethnicity here. People accused of "passing for white" usually ARE predominately white and have a right to their true heritage.

http://melungeon.ning.com/forum/topics/5th-union-presentation-by-a-d-powell

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0939479222/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

May. 27 2012 11:22 PM
Madelaine from Irvine, CA

My mother's name is Jeannette. She is 90 years old now and lives with me.
She was 1st trumpet with both Phil Spitalny and the Ina Ray Hutton band.
If you have any questions for her, I'll be glad to enter her responses here for you.

Mar. 23 2012 10:40 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear Sly Fox,

It's a common misconception, as you'll see below, that this page hosts only a "small article." Many who mistake this page for a "small article" unfortunately believe that the only evidence presented to document Ina's blackness is the hunch of the reporter: me. But this page exists to host an audio report, which you can hear when you click "listen" or "download." When you do so, you will hear a report that summarizes original document investigation that demonstrates Ina was not only recorded as black by Census takers, but that she and her family socialized as black, from before her birth, through her childhood. You may find it easier to read a summary of the research at: http://blackpast.org/?q=aah%2Fhutton-ina-ray-nee-odessa-cowan-1916-1984

Feb. 15 2012 02:11 AM
Mel from Las Vegas

Phyllis,

I would love to talk with you to learn more about Ina Ray Hutton. Please email me at: ritzm@unlv.nevada.edu

Thank you!

Feb. 11 2012 02:35 AM
Mel from Las Vegas

Phyllis~

I would love to talk with you about your interview with Susan, and to possibly interview you to ask some questions about Ina Ray Hutton. Please email me at: ritzm@unlv.nevada.edu

Thank you!

Feb. 11 2012 02:20 AM
Betty Boo

@ Sly Fox and the rest who are annoyed at this. You who made this comment that a person can be 99% white and 1% black and black people will make the person "black" You FORGET your history. The ONE DROP RULE was created by whites to discriminate against people with mixed ancestry. (GOOGLE IT). There is no doubt that her white ancestry was more dominant in her features than her black, but if you look at the times in which she lived, if that information ever got out she would be discriminated against not by blacks but by WHITES. Carol Channing's father was black and her mother (Who was white) warned her if she had children, her children could come out black. So Carol kept her ancestry a secret. Again I say, the people of mixed ancestry who "passed" did it because of the hostility of WHITES in that time not black. Can blacks be racist? Of course, but the DIFFERENCE between white racism and black racism is that whites in that time had the POWER to limit your opportunities if it was discovered you had ONE DROP of black blood. So if you are going to complain about blacks being to quick to adopt someone as black because their grandmother was black, they why don't more whites step up to claim these talents as their own despite their mixed ancestry? ********CRICKETS***********

Feb. 08 2012 03:54 PM
SlyFox

I find this small article to be so one sided. Next, you’ll try to tell us that Johnnie Ray was black also. It is so easy to say anything about people who are dead and they cannot shed some light on their pasts and origins. Who's to say she did not prefer her white roots over her black roots?! No one knows because she is dead and we'll never know what she really felt like. Maybe she loved all of her roots, but we'll never know. It is obvious that this person has more white roots than black roots. It does not take a genius to see that. I have no problem with people origins, but African American will call a person black even if the person is 99% white and 1% black. They are just as prejudiced as the little white folks. They are pushing their own interpretation of facts on dead people lives and they can twist these facts to their advantage because no one is there to say otherwise. I don’t care about her origins. I love her since the first time I discovered her on YouTube and that won’t change. I have seen some black people living positive comments on YouTube now that they know she is of black origin. They would not even give a second glance at her if no one said anything. How disturbing and hypocrite is that? Extremely!

Jan. 01 2012 09:39 AM
Amaya from Ohio

She was not black obviously idiots... She is white with African ancestors.. in fact its been long proven that ALL white people have African genes... Thus her real secret was not letting it be known that she had a close Africa genetic ties... She was white... look at her skin numb nuts... If at all she did have some color that she found ways to conceal.. she still would not be black... She would have been mixed... mulatto with a secret... Thus stfu and stop trying to tie her into some shyt...

Dec. 03 2011 02:59 PM
Judy Chaikin from Los Angeles

This is an absolutely true story. I just finished a documentary, THE GIRLS IN THE BAND in which Ina Ray Hutton is featured. I spoke to still living members of the band and it was common knowledge that Ina Ray's mother was of mixed race. Which in the parlance of that day meant Black.

Oct. 31 2011 05:36 PM
mikki

Roberlto from Florida,

It DOES make her Black. There are countless people like Hutton. I have people in my family where one sibling is brown and obviously black and the other is blonde haired and blue eyes (same parents). This is nothing new. This country has already ascribed to the one-drop rule and it still does. Can't change the rules now. Too much history and too much confusion. Ina Ray Hutton was a black person that "passed for white". Tons did post-slavery!

Oct. 21 2011 05:25 PM
elaine from li

'Passing' for adorable and talented. The people who are 'analyzing' her looks and voice are just silly and archaic. It's a sad part of our history that must be known.

Oct. 17 2011 10:28 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear Richard: I think you are referring the copy in the lead paragraph. It describes my initial hunch that Ina "might have been" black. The full story is an audio piece you can hear when you click the "listen" or "download" links above Ina's photo.

Forgive me if I have given instructions you do not need. I give them because if you hear the story, you understand that it is quite genuine and well-sourced, because in the story you hear a summary of the research I did to investigate my hunch.

I agree that Billy Tipton's story is genuine and dramatic as well. Thank you for including her in the legacy of fine women musicians who passed.

Oct. 05 2011 11:57 PM
Richard

Poorly sourced story. It's all based on "might have been"?

A much more dramatic, and genuine, story of a "passing" jazz musician:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Tipton

Oct. 05 2011 10:57 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear Nichele, I will tell Susan you asked! She has at least one story for you. :) I love the comments. . . tell your friends & keep it goin'!

Oct. 05 2011 10:18 PM
Catherine from Georgia

racial purity is a joke. go back far enough in any family tree and at some point you find a different "race". If Ina Ray Hutton had to say she was white to be acceptable to society in the 1930's then I am glad she did or we most likely would not have here legacy today. More power to her if she put one over on the "man"

Oct. 05 2011 07:16 PM
Beverly from Watertown, MA (Boston area)

Several people mentioned that someone who looked as white as Ms. Hutton couldn't possibly be Black. That's the whole point. In order to pass looking as white as possible is what makes it doable. Once I read a line I've never forgotten. A grandmother told her granddaughter,"In our race we have them from snow to crow."

Oct. 04 2011 06:21 PM
Nichele from New Jersey

I realize that some non-blacks may not understand this but if they look at history they will see that "passing" for what you are not has happened for centuries through out the world. The sad part is that they no connection to their history for financial gain or ease of living. I't sad! I would like to know what the niece is doing to find out about her hidden heritage? Thank you for the story Phyllis.....

Oct. 04 2011 04:55 PM
Michael from Woodstock, NY

This story could have easily been the root of another popular tale, 'Some Like It Hot'. Billy Wilder was telling this story in a more socially acceptable way with the use of men 'passing' as women. Of course there are other themes apparent in Wilder's story, but the same basic story, it is. Could he have had that metaphor in mind?

Oct. 02 2011 06:42 PM
Wendell from NYC

To those who may doubt the historic veracity of very "white" appearing people being legally designated as "black," consider the example of Walter Francis White who, not only could easily pass for white, but who infiltrated the Klan to investigate lynchings and who was actually head of the NAACP for over 20 years. There are innumerable stories like those of White and Hutton.
(www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Francis_White)

The ability or need to pass for white points up the absurdities of a self-propagating system in America whereby, largely for reasons of economic advantage for whites, no acknowledgement of persons of mixed race could be allowed. One had to be either "white" or "black."

Oct. 02 2011 05:23 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear Monroe, thank you! I agree! She was great regardless of how anyone might define her! If you see this comment I hope you'll tell us if you saw her perform live & in person? How wonderful for us if you can tell us about that time!

Oct. 02 2011 04:29 PM
Monroe Litman from WNYC /Harlem, Manhattan

I Posted a Message About ReReReReadin'
Christmas Carol & Of The Allistar Sims
Film !!!! & "Scroogie" Bloomberg !!! to help
NYC instead of His Budget "Fireings' !!!!!
So
I Almost Didn't See The Longer Right Side >
& Then I had The DELIGHT to SEE
Something That's a Real Delight - It Doesn't Matter - Whatever She Was -
She Was a Great Performer Worth Enjoying Fully & Some
of her Orchestra were Women ? !!!!!!
I remember Phil Spitalmy (?) & Hazel Scott
Thanks ! I went to Troy Davis Gathering at Riverside Church !!!!!!

Oct. 02 2011 04:10 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear hlee82, I agree. I do not see those facial features in the film, nor in any film of her that I've seen.

Oct. 02 2011 04:02 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear "pc," the report you heard is authentic to my experience of learning about Ina Ray Hutton and seeing her for the first time. I understand why it may not reflect others' experiences. The photo I describe in the story is unlike any other I've seen of her. I have not noticed any "giveaway" features as prominently in any other photo online. The professor you hear in the story has more to say about how she used her behind in costuming and dance. It was not so much about the shape of her behind as how she drew attention to it. So "havin' that booty" is in the eye of the beholder, you could say. As for how "easy" it was for her to pass, we'll never truly know. Certainly if you define "ease" by others' lack of ability to detect any blackness, yes, that was very easy for her--as long as she kept her hair blonde and straight, which was *not* easy in those days and required daily attention. As for how "easy" it was emotionally, we'll likely never know.

Oct. 02 2011 03:57 PM

By watching this video, I don't see how you can possibly think she was anything but white. Big forehead and round cheeks?? I don't see that at all. There is not a trace of African features in her face. Her skin is white as snow.

Oct. 02 2011 03:53 PM
pc


the studio 360 report on Hutton was pretty misleading. After i heard it, i went online and saw several photos, and videos of Hutton performing. She was terrific and beautiful. BUT...contrary to what was stated in the studio 360 show, she did NOT have a prominent behind, nor full lips, as would be typical of an African American. They made it sound like she had a figure like Beyonce or something. NOT EVEN CLOSE! and her skin color was whiter than white. It was obviously very, very easy for her to "pass".
you can see how "racial" categories truly have no meaning, if someone that white can be thought of as black!

Oct. 02 2011 03:29 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

P.S. Robelto, the Census marked Ina's mother and grandmother as black and negro in the years that the Census did not use the term "mulatto."

Oct. 02 2011 03:17 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear Robelto, thank you for your comment. I had some similar questions at first. But then when I read about her and her family in the Chicago Defender, those questions changed. The feature and articles written by, and about, her and her family when she was a child, demonstrate that her family socialized as black, and were very much part of black life in Chicago. It then appears that her mom (and grandma) decided *for* her (and her sister) that Odessa's/Ina's blackness would no longer be part of her identity. Whether one calls this "identifying as black" and then "passing" is surely an individual choice. Given the historical context of 1930s Chicago, and the music business in the US at the time, I think it is fair to say that's what they had decided Odessa/Ina should do. I agree that this brings up many questions about who defines race(s) and how those definitions matter.

Oct. 02 2011 03:15 PM
Robelto from Florida

How archaic! Come on she was passing as White?! She may have some Black blood, however, that does not make her "Black" Thats the old slave master rule of 1 drop so he could obtain more slaves. Biologically a Mulatto and a Black person are different, its common sense, the old rule is so indoctrinated into American culture among the older generation especially. There are so many White Americans that have Black,Asian and American Indian ancestry and they are still White. Phenotype and skin color has a lot to do with determining race, not just a little mix. Its an oxymoron, White passing as Black. Don't take the Blackness from the West African!; their phenotype, natural black skin and redefining it making it lighter/Caucasian. Passing means success, out of the perceived negative. Her culture is White as that is what she identified as and never claimed to be anything else. Also American Indian and White mixture were considered Mulattoes also in some periods.

Oct. 02 2011 02:18 PM
Diego Lopez from New York

Dear Phyllis,

First of all, thank you! This was an enlightening and entertaining piece, and my playlist just gained a new favorite. The excitement of your discovery is contagious. My main concern in this discussion is with terminology. The whole idea of “passing” seems to me one that, while appropriate in the context of the thirties, we must be very careful about today. It is obvious from your research that Ina Ray was of mixed descent. Most African Americans are. The term “passing” is so mired in racial reasoning, particularly the one-drop rule. I believe in a contemporary discussion of race we must be careful about too much racial reasoning, lest we give these terms and ideas undue weight. The whole idea of “passing” characterizes the mixed race experience as illegitimate, as if the person doing the “passing” was an impostor, marked indelibly in their blood by the human stain of African descent. Digging up these figures from the past, it enlightens us as to the legitimacy of the mixed race experience and the unfair, even ridiculous, nature of racial reasoning. Ina’s story is the perfect metaphor for the American experience at-large.
Thanks again.

Oct. 02 2011 01:42 PM
David Christmas from New Jersey

My ears perked up when I heard you mention Ina this morning in the intro of your fine show. I used to watch her on TV. She was televised from the Aragon Ballroom, I think, in Santa Monica, CA in the 50's. I was a young kid living in Pasadena in love with pop/theatre music and thought she was glamorous and talented. How interesting it was to find out about her roots and how long she'd been in the biz. It would have made no difference to me what color she was. She was just nifty and full of verve!

Oct. 02 2011 01:32 PM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Kristin, thank you for sharing that other all-girl bands had been recorded on film before the Melodears!

Oct. 02 2011 12:49 PM
Sharon

Thank you so much for this. Just think what this amazingly talented lady was able to do that we would not have ever seen IF in those days they had known. What a history lesson! We need to keep remembering those lessons.

Thanks so much.

Oct. 02 2011 12:09 PM
Kristin McGee

Thanks for posting this fascinating piece and important addition to the biography of Ina Ray Hutton. Her passing would seem to speak to the complex racial, cultural and gendered strategies adopted by innovative and highly talented performing women in those decades. By the way, Hutton's Melodears was not the first all-girl band to be recorded on film: Paramount and other film companies made shorts of other vaudeville style all-girl jazz bands most notably the Ingenues which were equally famous in the 1920s (see McGee's Some Liked it Hot: Jazz Women in Film and Television - http://www.upne.com/0-8195-6907-0.html).

Oct. 02 2011 11:49 AM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear Patricia, may I recommend the liner notes of the latest 3-CD set of her work, _Ina Ray Hutton: The Definitive Collection_. Athan Maroulis was very thorough in assembling them. Kristin McGee also answers your questions in her book _Some Liked it Hot_. I'm glad I could introduce you to a "new" artist!

Oct. 01 2011 11:08 AM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear Lyn, thank you for your contribution to this discussion. I love your story about your friend who still "passes!" I have found myself in that position--not being aware of it until someone says something that makes me realize I'm passing. Also, my friend Elliott Lewis has a book called "Fade" that talks about his parents' generation in the way you describe those before us who identify as black. It's a great thing for us to remember as we analyze how race has come to be constructed.

Oct. 01 2011 11:00 AM
patricia from Princeton NJ

The background story -- who was Ina Ray's agent, and how was her band assembled -- is what interests me more. Was this a tap dancer who needed her own live music, or a band who needed a frontsperson, or a band conductor who collected woman players, or women musicians who recruited her, or a wily showbiz promoter who dreamed up and assembled the Melodears?

Oct. 01 2011 09:17 AM
Lyn from 08054

Phyllis, unfortunately white people cannot fathom how someone who looks so white could be from another culture, another race. I was born in 1946 during a time before intergration when "high yella" society still existed in the African American community. There were many "mulatto" people in our family and community and a lot of times when it was time to marry they chose very light skinned people to be their mates. Even today I have cousins that appear other than black and if you would see them you would swear they are white. I have a friend that passes every day without even trying and she told me that her mission is to spy on white and tell us how they really feel about us and what they say about us when they think we're not around. This group of people from another generation idenitify as being black, unlike today's "bi-racials" who usually have a white mother and a black father. Many in my family did'nt consciously seek to "pass", instead society decided for them as some live in very integrated areas. My advice to Mel and others that do not know our history is to listen to us that experience a different reality because it is in our blood and we know what we know. You come to our next family reunion and I promise you it will be a mind blowing experience.

Oct. 01 2011 08:48 AM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

P.S. And the family she and her sister lived with was their birth family, as established through birth certificates.

Sep. 30 2011 11:16 AM
Phyllis Fletcher from Seattle

Dear Mel, thanks for your comment. The Census called Ina's mother, grandmother, and sister "black," "mulatto," or "negro." The terms varied in the different censuses from 1900 to 1930. Her father was "mulatto" or "white," depending on which document he was filling out (or was being filled out for him). Ina and her family members were featured in the Chicago Defender (the black newspaper) several times, until she was discovered by a white vaudeville producer. The anecdote you've read is consistent with a narrative that would have developed to help someone pass.

Sep. 30 2011 11:06 AM
Mel

After watching the video and looking at other photos of Ina, there's no evidence that supports that she was black. I've read that she shared a home in a black community in Chicago, and that the census listed her as "black", because of this living arrangement.

Sep. 30 2011 02:30 AM

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