Obituary: Ivy Benson

Ivy Benson, bandleader and musician: born c1914; married 1949 Caryll Clark (marriage dissolved 1951), 1957 Brantley Callaway (marriage dissolved 1964); died Clacton 6 May 1993.

IVY BENSON was not the first woman to direct a band, nor did she claim to be so. Over in the US there were Ina Ray Hutton and her Melodears and Dolly Dawn and her Dawn Patrol. In England there were Blanche Coleman and Gloria Faye, but they, unlike Ivy Benson, are forgotten names today.

In 1938 the Canadian violinist Teddy Joyce - who in the early Thirties had directed the resident band at the Kit-Cat Restaurant in London - was fronting a 24-girl band with Benson as his lead alto saxophonist. By the early Forties she had become a bandleader herself.

Benson's unofficial appointment as the BBC's 'house bandleader' made her the target of much venom from male contemporaries who considered anything Benson did they could do better, but it was the making of Ivy Benson and her all-girls band. Male prejudice against Benson seems to have permeated reference books on the band scene, few of which even deign to mention her name.

Benson only recorded sparsely, her three sessions for HMV resulting in 12 sides made between October 1943 and January 1944. Her vocalists were Kay Yorston, who also played the string bass, Rita Williams, a highly regarded singer, a girl calling herself Georgina and Billy Thorburn.

Ivy Benson came late to the band- leading business, which by the 1950s was in terminal decline, but the band was a capable and very popular unit undeserving of criticism aimed at it by jealous contemporaries. Benson's female 'sidemen' were competent musicians, expertly directed, and it is unreasonable that the band should be disregarded by those who write about the waltz and foxtrot years.

(Photograph omitted)

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