Beryl Davis: Singer who worked with Sinatra, Miller, Reinhardt and Grappelli

 

The British song stylist, Beryl Davis, was never as acclaimed as her favourite singer, Ella Fitzgerald, but she had a momentous career working with Django Reinhardt, Glenn Miller and Frank Sinatra. In the 1920s, Oscar Rabin ran one of the UK's top dance bands but he preferred to play saxophone and have the band led by Harry Davis, a showman who sang and played guitar and banjo. Harry's wife, Queenie, would tour with him and their daughter, Beryl, was born in the Palace Theatre, Plymouth in 1924.

From the age of eight, Beryl was dodging truant officers and working with his band. She won a tap-dancing championship in 1933 and recorded withAl Bowlly in 1936. She toured with Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt in the Quintette du Hot Clubde France and recorded "Undecided" and "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" with them in 1939.

During the war, Davis worked with the bandleaders Paul Fenoulhet, Geraldo and Nat Temple and the BBC could rely on her to turn up at all hours, dodging the bombs to sing for the nation. She sang "I'll Be Seeing You" in December 1944 at what would be Glenn Miller's last concert. He said to her, "Good show, kid, I'll be seeing you," and then his plane was lost in the fog over the English Channel.

In 1946, Davis appeared in London Town, which was expected to make the music hall comic, Sid Field, an international star. It didn't happen, but Bob Hope invited her to Hollywood, where she sang on six editions of his Pepsodent radio show. She received several offers from other programmes and for a year she sang alongside Frank Sinatra on Your Hit Parade, the biggest radio show of its day.

In 1948, Davis married the radio and TV personality Peter Potter (real name Peter Moore), with whom she had three children. Potter devised Juke Box Jury. While she raised a family, her sister, Lisa, was acting in British films.

Davis attended St Stephen's Episcopal Church in Hollywood and in 1954, became part of a gospel quartet with other church members – Jane Russell, Connie Haines and Della Russell, the wife of Andy. They had a surprise hit as the Four Girls with "Do Lord" in 1954. Rhonda Fleming replaced Della Russell and they worked on and off, undertaking a UK tour in 1968.

By now, Davis had become an American citizen. After she divorced in 1965, Davis's new partner was Buck Stapleton, a former drummer for Glenn Miller. He organised entertainment for the Princess Line and Davis sang standards on cruise ships for over 20 years. Stapleton died in 2003 and Davis continued making occasional guest appearances. At a Glenn Miller tribute in the UK, she said, "I feel like I'm praying when I say that name."

Beryl Davis, singer: born Plymouth 16 March 1924; married 1948 Peter Potter (divorced 1965, died 1983; one son, two daughters), partner to Buck Stapleton (died 2003); died Los Angeles 28 October 2011.

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