Dorothy Claire

Photo of Dorothy Claire

Wild and untamed in her early days, blonde vocalist Dorothy Claire made quite a splash when she debuted with Bob Crosby’s band in 1939, catching the attention of critics and other bandleaders alike. Claire later went on sing with Bobby Byrne and, briefly, Glenn Miller, where she became the subject of a legal spat between the two men. Claire’s singing style resembled that of Betty Hutton, and in the late 1940s she launched a solo career that proved successful in nightclubs, on the radio, and on Broadway.

Born into a musical family, Claire began singing as a young girl, winning first prize in an amateur contest at age six. She received her professional start in 1937, at age sixteen, after attending the University of Notre Dame prom, where the Indiana University dance band was playing. She knew many of the orchestra members, and they asked her to sing. Bandleader Slim Lamar also happened to be in the audience and offered her a job. Her parents initially refused to let her join Lamar’s group but were talked into it by one of her school teachers, who pointed out that she might not get such a break again. It was Lamar who changed her name, using his interest in numerology to choose Dorothy for Dorothy Lamour and Claire for Ina Claire.

Claire was with Joaquin Gill’s orchestra in February 1939 when she signed with Bob Crosby. The move to Crosby’s band puzzled many. Down Beat magazine writer Milton Karle wondered why Claire, whom he called a “showmanly little singer with very little voice” who “used to yell her lungs out,” would want to sing ballads. One New York tabloid intimated that she joined so she could be near one of the group’s married members. Music journalists soon realized why Claire was hired. Singer Marion Mann remained with Crosby, giving the orchestra two female vocalists. Mann handled the ballads, while Claire was used to her best advantage, singing the more animated numbers. Billboard magazine called Claire a “lively newcomer” who “shades a colorless voice with energetic versions of swingy ditties.”

During her Crosby days, Claire would rarely stand at the microphone while she sang. Instead, she would tear around the room, singing at tables or anywhere else she felt the urge. One Down Beat writer, remembering her performances, wrote:

Those of us who knew her were afraid to sit by the ringside. There’s no telling what piece of nonsense she’d introduce into her routine and more’n likely we’d be the guinea pigs.

Claire caused a sensation with Crosby, staying in the band through at least June, but by December 1939 she was with Bobby Byrne. As Claire matured, she grew more professional and less wild, so that by the time she’d settled into Byrne’s outfit she was confining her act to the bandstand. Her animated vocals proved popular with audiences, and she quickly became a featured performer with the orchestra.

Miller Contract Battle

Claire ended up in the center of a nasty legal battle between Byrne and Glenn Miller in early 1941. In December 1940, facing the imminent departure of Marion Hutton, Miller enticed Claire to leave Byrne, reportedly offering $250 a week, a significant incentive to the $75 a week she received with Byrne.[1] Miller also promised Claire evening clothes as well as extra pay for recordings and special broadcasts. Claire accepted and joined the band on January 6, 1941, despite the fact that she had just signed a two-year contract with Byrne in November.

Understandably upset with Miller’s poaching of Claire, Byrne sued Miller for $25,000, charging him with “conspiracy, connivance, coercion and intimidation” for inducing the singer to break her contract. Miller’s attorney argued that Claire was still under 21 years of age at the time, which meant any contract she had entered was not legally binding in the eyes of the law. Claire’s mother, however, had countersigned her contract. Miller eventually decided that the legal headache wasn’t worth it and released Claire at the end of March, replacing her with Paula Kelly.

Claire returned to Byrne, where she served out her contract, taking three weeks out of the band in July 1941 for an emergency appendectomy. She finished ninth in Billboard’s 1941 poll for most popular female vocalist and twelfth in 1942. A natural comedienne, Claire developed a unique singing style that made the most of her limited vocal abilities, though she often wasn’t given the right material to work with by bandleaders.

After her contract with Byrne expired in October 1942, Claire received an offer from Sonny Dunham, though she took a month off for a minor operation before finally joining his outfit in November, becoming the star attraction in what was an otherwise less-than-stellar group. She had other ambitions than to be a member of Dunham’s band though. She made it known that she wanted to do musical comedy and set her agent to looking for appropriate work. Dunham wasn’t completely sure if Claire would stick around, and Claire’s preference for doing numbers as a single caused tension with the band’s other female singer, Mickie Roy, whom Dunham had brought in from California to replace the recently drafted Ray Kellogg. Roy left the band after only one week, forcing Dunham to rethink his plan to have no male vocalists. He hired Don Darcy to replace Roy. Coincidentally, when Claire took time off due to illness in early 1943, Paula Kelly, who had taken her place in Miller’s band, subbed for her.

Post-Band Career

In February 1944, Boyd Raeburn raided Dunham’s band, taking Claire along with Darcy and four of Dunham’s key sidemen. Claire stayed only a few months with Raeburn, launching a successful solo career in mid-1944 performing in nightclubs and theaters. She had her own NBC Blue radio program in 1944 and 1945, broadcast from Chicago.

Claire occasionally filled in for orchestras in need of a temporary female vocalist, including Lawrence Welk’s band in July 1944, when Janie Walton went on a three-week vacation, and Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra twice in 1946. She sang for Charlie Barnet in January 1947 after Barnet dissolved his West Coast band and put together a new group in New York for an engagement at the Strand Theater. Claire recorded with Dorsey’s band in early 1946 and solo that same year on the World Wide label. When World Wide went bankrupt, the masters were bought by Enterprise and redistributed in 1947.

In June 1947, Claire landed the role of Sharon McLonergan in the Broadway production of Finian’s Rainbow, replacing Ella Logan, who decided to leave the show. Claire became Logan’s understudy in May when Kitty Kallen had dropped out due to other commitments. Claire ended up staying with the show for eighteen months.

After leaving Finian’s Rainbow at the end of 1948, Claire returned to the nightclub circuit and in 1950 began appearing regularly on television’s The Paul Winchell Show. She made guest appearances on many other television programs as well. She recorded on the MGM label in 1950. She continued performing into the 1970s, mainly in nightclubs, also appearing in two films, as a singing prostitute in Cat Ballou (1965) and in the low budget 1970 Lenny Bruce biopic Dirtymouth.

Dorothy Claire passed away from anoxic encepholopathy in 1982, age 62. Her sisters, Judy and Betty, were also band vocalists. She appeared twice on the cover of Down Beat, once with Dunham and once with Byrne. Claire married tenor sax player Emmett Carls, who preceded her in death.


  1. Choosing Claire to replace Hutton was a smart decision by Miller. Claire and Hutton had similar singing styles, which made Claire basically a drop-in replacement for Hutton’s role in the band. ↩︎


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  2. Stewart, John. Broadway Musicals: 1943-2004. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 2006. Web.
  3. “Night Club Reviews: Blackhawk Cafe, Chicago.” Billboard 25 Feb. 1939: 19.
  4. Karle, Milton. “Out-of-Towners Steal Jobs From Pitt Musicians.” Down Beat Mar. 1939: 37.
  5. “The Stuff's Here.” Down Beat Jun. 1939: 37.
  6. “Riverside Holding Okeh.” Billboard 17 Jun. 1939: 23.
  7. Advertisement. “General Amusement Corporation.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1939: 23.
  8. “Alberti Signs One Of Claire Sisters.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1940: 3.
  9. “Who's Who in Music: Presenting Bobby Byrne's Band.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1940: 11.
  10. “Marion Hutton Quits Glenn Miller To Become a Mother.” Billboard 28 Dec. 1940: 76.
  11. “Talent and Tunes On Music Machines.” Billboard 11 Jan. 1941: 63.
  12. “Miller Sued For 'Theft' of Vocalist.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1941: 1.
  13. “Byrne Vs. Miller Litigation Begun.” Billboard 18 Jan. 1941: 14.
  14. “Glenn Miller's Orchestra is Army Favorite.” The Victoria Advocate [Victoria, Texas] 4 Feb. 1941: 2.
  15. “Paula Kelly In, Claire Out of G. Miller Band.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1941: 1.
  16. “Collegiate Choice of Female Vocalists.” Billboard 3 May 1941: 12.
  17. “Claire, Palmer Rejoin Bobby Byrne's Band.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1941: 2.
  18. Cover Photo. Down Beat 15 Jan. 1942: Cover.
  19. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  20. “Collegiate Choice of Female Vocalists.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 21.
  21. Zatt, Sol. “Vaudeville Reviews: State, New York.” Billboard 22 Aug. 1942: 16.
  22. Carter, Dick. “On the Air: Bobby Bryne.” Billboard 22 Aug. 1942: 21.
  23. “Long Hard Winter Faces Those Chirps with Draft-Bait Bosses.” Billboard 17 Oct. 1942: 21.
  24. “Watch the Pretty Birdie Now.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1941: 2.
  25. “Bobby Byrne Is Confronted With Tour Headaches.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1942: 3.
  26. “Dorothy Claire Plans Operation.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1942: 4.
  27. Carter, Dick. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 14 Nov. 1942: 16.
  28. “No Male Voices for Dunham.” Billboard 19 Dec. 1942: 24.
  29. “Dunham Using Beauteous Blonde, Brunet Singers.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1943: 11.
  30. “Dunham Minus One Canary; Claire Gets Male Songmate.” Billboard 30 Jan. 1943: 22.
  31. “Dunham Vocals Still Unsettled.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1943: 5.
  32. “Collegiate Choice of Female Vocalists.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 21.
  33. “Vaudeville Reviews: Oriental, Chicago.” Billboard 19 Jun. 1943: 16.
  34. “Bands Dug by the Beat: Sonny Dunham.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1943: 5.
  35. “On the Stand: Sonny Dunham.” Billboard 25 Dec. 1943: 35.
  36. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1944: 5.
  37. “Dunham's Duo With Raeburn.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1944: 1.
  38. Cover Photo. Down Beat 15 Apr. 1944: Cover.
  39. “Frankie Enjoys This Brush-Off.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1944: 3.
  40. “Music Grapevine.” Billboard 5 Aug. 1944: 17.
  41. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1944: 4.
  42. Baker, Jack. “Reviews: Helsing's Vodvil Lounge.” Billboard 23 Sep. 1944: 36.
  43. “In Short.” Billboard 7 Oct. 1944: 23.
  44. “In Short.” Billboard 2 Dec. 1944: 33.
  45. “Here's News Capsule Of Music World For 1944.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1945: 3.
  46. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1945: 4.
  47. “Night Club Reviews: Rio Cabana, Chicago.” Billboard 7 Apr. 1945: 28.
  48. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1945: 4.
  49. “Chi Blue Set to Produce Segs for C-to-C Net.” Billboard 2 Jun. 1945: 5.
  50. “In Short.” Billboard 2 Jun. 1945: 33.
  51. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1945: 4.
  52. “Night Club Reviews: Copacabana, New York.” Billboard 15 Sep. 1945: 34.
  53. “Music as Written.” Billboard 2 Mar. 1946: 22.
  54. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 11 Mar. 1946: 1.
  55. “Vaudeville Reviews: Loew's State, New York.” Billboard 16 Mar. 1946: 44.
  56. “In Short.” Billboard 30 Mar. 1946: 41.
  57. “Music as Written.” Billboard 27 Apr. 1946: 26.
  58. “Night Club Reviews: Biltmore Bowl, Los Angeles.” Billboard 7 Sep. 1946: 41.
  59. Advertisement. Billboard 5 Oct. 1946: 22.
  60. “Cattle, Free Show Hurt T.D., Bob C.” Billboard 9 Nov. 1946: 19.
  61. “Music as Written.” Billboard 9 Nov. 1946: 20.
  62. “Barnet Folds, Rebuilds Ork.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1947: 6.
  63. “Logan In Or Out Of 'Rainbow.'” Down Beat 7 May 1947: 14.
  64. “Dottie Claire In Show Role.” Down Beat 4 Jun. 1947: 1.
  65. “Claire Enhances 'Rainbow' Role.” Down Beat 28 Jan. 1948: 2.
  66. “Reis Loses His Suit Vs. Dorothy Claire.” Billboard 31 Jan. 1948: 40.
  67. “Vic Damone for Luckies?” Billboard 22 May 1948: 20.
  68. “N.Y. Latin Quarter Inks Rudy Vallee.” Billboard 11 Dec. 1948: 40.
  69. “Capsule Comments.” Down Beat 11 Mar. 1949: 19.
  70. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 6 May 1949: 4.
  71. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 12 Aug. 1949: 4.
  72. “Finian's Star, Hoosier Honey, Very Proud of Uke Playing Dad.” The Milwaukee Journal 17 Mar. 1950: 3.
  73. “Jerry Colonna Gets Top Spot in Atlantic City Steel Pier Show.” The Wilmington Sunday Star [Wilmington, Delaware] 16 Jul. 1950: 15.
  74. “Music as Written.” Billboard 21 Oct. 1950: 19.
  75. “Television-Radio Reviews: Paul Winchell.” Billboard 29 Sep. 1951: 10.
  76. “Dorothy Claire Tops New Carousel Bill.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 24 Nov. 1952: 25.
  77. “Coinmen Hype Big Turnout at Park Dinner.” Billboard 12 Dec. 1953: 57.
  78. Verlarde, Ed. “Talent Review: Billy Gray.” Billboard 7 Aug. 1954: 46.
  79. “Montreal.” Down Beat 25 Aug. 1954: 21.
  80. “Montreal.” Down Beat 19 Oct. 1955: 36.
  81. Advertisement. The New London Day [New London, Connecticut] 25 Sep. 1970: 18.
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