Bob Eberly

aka Bob Eberle

Photo of Bob Eberly
  • Birth Name

    Robert Eberle
  • Born

    July 24, 1916
    Mechanicsville, New York
  • Died

    November 17, 1981 (age 65)
    Glen Burnie, Maryland
  • Orchestras

    Dorsey Brothers
    Jimmy Dorsey

One of the best remembered vocalists of the swing era, Bob Eberly spent eight years with Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra. Eberle reached his career peak during the late 1930s and early 1940s, rivaling Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra in popularity. His career suffered a setback in late 1943, however, when he fell victim to the draft. Returning to civilian life after the war, he found that the public had forgotten him, and he spent the rest of the 1940s and early 1950s fruitlessly trying to recapture his fame.

Eberly gained prominence in the mid-1930s by winning Fred Allen’s amateur hour and began his professional career performing in clubs around his hometown of Hoosick Falls in upstate New York. His act consisted of singing while accompanying himself on the guitar. One reviewer described his style as “individual.” It was in Troy, New York, where the Dorsey Brothers discovered him, later hiring him to replace the departing Bob Crosby.

Eberly started work in the spring of 1935, three weeks before Tommy walked out on the orchestra. Having been hired by Tommy, he feared losing his job, but both brothers offered him a position. He chose Jimmy, as Tommy wouldn’t be able to pay him for several weeks until his new band was ready to perform. At the beginning of 1939, he changed the spelling of his last name from Eberle because the announcer of the Milton Berle radio program kept mispronouncing it.

Ranked as one of the top male vocalists of his day, Eberly regularly competed with Bing Crosby and later Frank Sinatra for that title. He placed third in Billboard magazine’s 1940, 1941, and 1942 college polls for best male vocalist, moving up to second in 1943. He placed third in Down Beat magazine’s 1939 poll for best male singer and second in 1940, narrowly behind Bing Crosby. He placed second again in Down Beat’s 1941 poll, ahead of Crosby but behind Sinatra, but fell to third in 1942 and 1943, behind both his rivals. Most famous are his duets with Helen O’Connell, who joined Dorsey in February 1939, and in whom it was also said he had romantic interest. Whether that was true or simply a publicity ploy is uncertain. Eberly married Florine Callahan in Chicago in early 1940.

Well-liked by his peers, Eberly became best friends and roommates with Jimmy Dorsey. Throughout his career, he was encouraged by many in the industry to strike out on his own, but he refused. He was perfectly happy earning a weekly salary with Dorsey’s group, saying “all I got to do here is sing a couple of songs, keep my suit pressed, and collect my check… I ain’t got no worries, so why should I want to change a set up like that?” In early 1941, rumors circulated that Eberly would leave Dorsey to start his own band, backed by Dorsey’s money. Both Eberly and Dorsey declared the rumor “crazy as hell.” Eberly appeared with Dorsey’s band in two film musicals, The Fleet’s In in 1942 and the Red Skleton vehicle I Dood It in 1943.

Post-Band Career

In November 1943, Eberly’s relationship with Dorsey finally ended when he entered the army. Stationed at Gardiner General Hospital in Chicago, he was a projectionist for films shown to patients. While there, he also sang for Wayne King, who was directing show units for Chicago’s Sixth Service Command. Even though he spent the entirety of 1944 in the service, Eberly won Down Beat’s 1944 poll for best band singer, garnering three times the number of votes of second place winner Buddy Di Vito.[1] In late 1944, while still in the service, he signed a record contract with Decca.

After he received his discharge, Eberly began recording and touring as a solo act. He soon discovered that the general public had largely forgotten him. When his solo Decca recordings didn’t sell, the label teamed him up with other Decca artists, including Carmen Cavallaro, Russ Morgan, Bob Haggart, and the unusual combo of organist Ethel Smith and The Bando Carioca, before eventually dropping him in 1948. He recorded for Coral in 1949 and Riviera in 1950. In 1947, he and O’Connell sang together in the fantastical biopic The Fabulous Dorseys, and when Eberly signed to Capitol in 1951 he was reunited with O’Connell on duets. That same year the pair also became regulars on the television program TV’s Top Tunes. By the middle of the decade, however, Eberly had faded from the public eye. He spent the rest of his career singing mostly in small clubs.

In 1980, Eberly had one lung removed due to cancer but still continued to sing. Frank Sinatra paid for the operation, even though the two men had never met. Bob Eberly died of a heart attack in 1981.

Bob’s younger brother, Ray Eberle, sang with Glenn Miller and later led his own band. A third Eberle brother, Walter, briefly sang for Hal McIntyre in 1941.


  1. Down Beat broke their singer category into band and non-band categories starting in 1944. Eberly didn’t compete with Crosby and Sinatra that year. ↩︎


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  3. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 5 Jan. 2016.
  4. “Vaudeville Reviews: Roxy, New York.” Billboard 16 Mar. 1935: 15.
  5. “Club Reviews: Palomar, Los Angeles.” Billboard 28 Mar. 1936: 30.
  6. “Vaudeville Reviews: Stanley, Pittsburgh.” Billboard 14 Aug. 1937: 16.
  7. “Night Club Reviews: Terrace Room, Hotel New Yorker, New York.” Billboard 12 Mar. 1938: 20.
  8. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 23 Jul. 1938: 20.
  9. “Night Club Reviews: Bon Air Country Club, Wheeling, Ill.” Billboard 20 Aug. 1938: 18.
  10. “Edythe Wright Leaves.” Down Beat Jan. 1939: 2.
  11. “Advertisement.” Billboard 30 Sep. 1939: 83.
  12. “Contest Results.” Down Beat1 Jan. 1940: 13.
  13. “Final Poll Results.” Down Beat1 Jan. 1941: 13.
  14. “Anniversary.” Down Beat1 Mar. 1941: 21.
  15. “Brantley with Jim Dorsey.” Down Beat1 May 1941: 5.
  16. “Poll Tabulations.” Down Beat1 Jan. 1942: 21.
  17. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  18. “O'Connell and Eberly Say That Fronting a Band Just Ain't Nowhere!” Down Beat15 May 1942: 6.
  19. “Poll Results.” Down Beat1 Jan. 1943: 14.
  20. “Students Select Singers.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  21. “List of Winners.” The Billboard 1943 Music Year Book. Cincinnati: Billboard, 1943: 139.
  22. “Bob Eberly in New Uniform.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1943: 1.
  23. “1943 Band Poll Winners.” Down Beat1 Jan. 1944: 13.
  24. “Los Angeles Band Briefs.” Down Beat1 Feb. 1944: 4.
  25. “Ravings at Reveille.” Down Beat1 Jun. 1944: 13.
  26. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat1 Jan. 1945: 4.
  27. “Poll Results.” Down Beat1 Jan. 1945: 15.
  28. “Music as Written.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1945: 17.
  29. “Eberly's Cap Pact Relinks Warbler Team.” Billboard 31 Mar. 1951: 22.
  30. “Bob Eberly Recalls Those Dorsey Days.” Ludington Daily News [Ludington, Michigan] 26 Jul. 1977: 13.
  31. “Sinatra Hasn't Met Bob Eberly But He's Footing His Cancer Bill.” Lakeland Ledger [Lakeland, Florida] 4 Sep. 1981: 2A.
  32. “Jimmy Dorsey's Singer, Bob Eberly, Dies at 65.”: The Milwaukee Journal 18 Nov. 1981: 15.