Wednesday, November 2, 2011
RIP: BERYL DAVIS
By PAUL VITELLO
Beryl Davis, a British singer who was beloved in England for carrying on with her cabaret performances during the bombing of London in World War II, and who later performed with Frank Sinatra and the big bands of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, died on Friday in Los Angeles. She was 87. The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, said a family spokesman, Greg Purdy.
Ms. Davis, the daughter of the British bandleader Harry Davis, began her professional career early. She performed with her father’s band at 8 and sang with the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Quintet of the Hot Club of France at 12, traveling with a chaperon. (In between, when she was 9, she won the 1934 All Britain Tap Dancing Championship.)
When the German air force began its blitz in 1940, Ms. Davis’s clear, pure singing style at the front of a jazz group that included the pianist George Shearing and the violinist Stéphane Grappelli, was already familiar to BBC listeners, and to London clubgoers.
She later said leaving the city had never occurred to her. “We just learned to handle the pressure,” she told Richard Grudens for “Jukebox Saturday Night,” his 1999 book about the big-band era. “I would have to be down at the BBC, who had me under contract, at odd hours of the night. Bombs would be dropping, and you just did your best to dodge them.”
She added, “If you didn’t dodge them, well, that was that, you know.”
Ms. Davis was a national star by the time she began singing with some of the American big bands passing through London on tours and performing for the troops. A booking on Dec. 12, 1944, with the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band at the Queensbury Club, came to haunt her. She sang the Bing Crosby wartime hit “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
After the show, she recalled, as Miller left, “he patted me on the shoulder, and he said, ‘Good show, kid. I’ll be seeing yuh.’ ” A small plane carrying Miller to Paris took off from the outskirts of London three days later, and was never seen again.
Ms. Davis made “I’ll Be Seeing You” her signature song, and often dedicated it to Miller’s memory.
Beryl Davis was born on March 16, 1924, in Plymouth, Devon, in southwestern England, to Harry and Queenie Davis. Her sister, Lisa, became an American television and film actress.
As a singer, she told interviewers, she modeled herself on Ella Fitzgerald, and, partly because of the American accent and swing phrasing she picked up imitating Fitzgerald’s style, Bob Hope invited her to Hollywood in 1947 to be a regular on his radio show. She later sang with Benny Goodman and Vaughn Monroe, and became a familiar voice on the radio shows of Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton, Abbott and Costello, and others.
Her recording career in the United States never took off, but in 1954 she formed a gospel quartet with three friends from church: her fellow big-band singer Connie Haines and the actresses Jane Russell and Rhonda Fleming. Calling themselves the Four Girls, they had a hit in 1954 with their version of “Do, Lord, Remember Me.”
Ms. Davis continued to sing in nightclubs throughout her life. In the 1970s she became a regular performer on Princess Line cruise ships.
Ms. Davis’s marriage to Peter Potter, a radio personality whose family name was Moore, ended in divorce. In addition to her sister, she is survived by three children, Bill Moore, Merry Moore and Melinda Moore Garber, and two grandchildren.