Hal Derwin

Photo of Hal Derwin

Guitarist, singer and bandleader Hal Derwin spent most of his career in hotel ballroom orchestras with the exception of the early and mid-1940s when he found national fame as a member of Les Brown’s band and as a Capitol recording artist. Unfortunately, that fame didn’t last, and in the 1950s he settled down to lead the house band at a Los Angeles hotel.

A Chicago native, Derwin attended business college and worked as a stenographer and secretary in a large firm before losing his job during the depression. Unable to find comparable work and possessing a good baritone voice, he decided to take a chance on singing as a career and went to local radio station KYW, who turned him away because they had no openings. A vocalist friend gave him the name of someone at the station and suggested he return and talk to them. Unbeknownst to Derwin, the station was having auditions that day to fill the third spot in a new male trio being put together for a sustaining program. Derwin auditioned and won the job.

Calling themselves The Campus Trio, the three men expanded beyond radio into club work and eventually joined Harry Sosnik’s orchestra at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. When Sosnik headed to the West Coast, they decided to remain in Chicago. Disagreements, though, caused them to disband soon after, and Derwin went back to office work, taking a job as a sales manager. Not able to get singing out of his blood, he soon auditioned for Boyd Raeburn’s hotel ballroom orchestra, landing the position of singer and guitarist. He joined Raeburn at some point before May 1936.

In early 1938, Derwin joined Louis Panico’s orchestra at the College Inn and later went on the road with them. When Shep Fields needed a new singer, a mutual friend convinced the bandleader to take a look at Derwin. By April, Derwin had joined Fields as both a singer and guitarist, becoming the band’s featured vocalist and earning a name on the national stage. He remained with Fields until September 1940. By August 1941, Derwin was back in Chicago with Raeburn’s band, where he stayed until October 1942 when he joined Les Brown.

Post-Band Career

Derwin’s stint with Brown, which lasted until at least September 1943, put him firmly in the national spotlight. After leaving Brown, Derwin went solo, filming a universal short in early 1944 and touring with the Meet the People review that spring and summer. He made at least three soundies and musical shorts in 1944: “Fellow with a Furlough,” with the Les Paul Trio and the Nilsson Sisters; “There Goes That Care,” a samba, with Joe Reichman’s orchestra; and “Pagliacci Swings It,” with Reichman and Carolyn Grey.

In summer 1945, Derwin recorded with Artie Shaw, the first male balladeer that Shaw had used in five years. In early 1946, he signed with Capitol, where he recorded over the next three years, sometimes with his own orchestra. Derwin first put together a band in mid-1947. It cut its first wax in June and debuted live in September to generally positive reviews. The orchestra played standard ballroom fair, with Mildred Shirley and Jeanne Taylor as female vocalists. Derwin disbanded in early 1948 but soon returned to Chicago to form a new outfit, with the Hi-Liters providing vocals. The new orchestra broke up late that year.

Derwin recorded duets with Martha Tilton in 1949, his last sides for Capitol. In 1950, he recorded on RCA Victor with Spade Cooley’s western swing band. In early 1951, Derwin put together a new orchestra for the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, which launched a house band policy that spring. He remained at the Biltmore until at least summer 1954.

Hal Derwin passed away in 1998 at the age of 83.[1]


  1. Many sources on the internet list Derwin’s birthdate as July 14, however multiple sources in the 1930s and 1940s, including Derwin’s own press bio, give it as August 7, as does the Social Security Death Index. ↩︎


  1. “Boyd Raeburn's Band Is Coming.” The Chillicothe Constitution [Chillicothe, Missouri] 15 May 1936: 3.
  2. “Will Appear at Ridotto Next Wednesday.” The Rolfe Arrow [Rolfe, Iowa] 5 May 1938: 3.
  3. “The Reviewing Stand: Shep Fields.” Billboard 10 Sep. 1938: 13.
  4. “Hal Derwin Is Featured With Fields.” The Amarillo Daily News 10 Mar. 1939: 23.
  5. “Orchestra Personnels: Shep Fields.” Down Beat 1 Oct. 1939: 17.
  6. “The Reviewing Stand: Shep Fields.” Billboard 25 Nov. 1939: 11.
  7. “Holiday's Murder Springfield Take.” Billboard 30 Dec. 1939: 34.
  8. “Chi Local Band Jumps into One of Land's Top Spots.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1941: 6.
  9. “On the Stand: Boyd Raeburn.” Billboard 23 Aug. 1941: 13.
  10. “Night Club Reviews: Chez Paree, Chicago.” Billboard 30 Aug. 1941: 28.
  11. “Night Club Reviews: Chez Paree, Chicago.” Billboard 3 Jan. 1942: 57.
  12. “On the Stand: Boyd Raeburn.” Billboard 17 Oct. 1942: 21.
  13. “On the Air: Les Brown.” Billboard 28 Nov. 1942: 22.
  14. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 2 Jan. 1943: 74.
  15. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 3 Apr. 1943: 14.
  16. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 10 Jul. 1943: 18.
  17. “Send Birthday Greetings To.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1943: 23.
  18. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 13 Sep. 1943: 4.
  19. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 19 Feb. 1944: 15.
  20. Winchell, Walter. “On Broadway.” The San Antonio Light 21 Jun. 1944: 16.
  21. “Musical Politics.” The Cincinnati Sun 7 Jul. 1944: 5.
  22. Advertisement. “At the State Theatre.” The Hamlin Herald [Hamlin, Texas] 1 Dec. 1944: 2.
  23. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 23 Dec. 1944: 67.
  24. Advertisement. “At the State Theatre.” The Hamlin Herald [Hamlin, Texas] 9 Mar. 1945: 3.
  25. “Hal Derwin Does Ballad On Shaw Disc.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1945: 8.
  26. “Music As Written.” Billboard 27 Apr. 1946: 26.
  27. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 12 Feb. 1947: 20.
  28. “Album Reviews.” Billboard 7 Jun. 1947: 130.
  29. No title. Billboard 21 Jun. 1947: 24.
  30. “GAC Invades Coast Spots.” Down Beat 24 Sep. 1947: 8.
  31. “On the Stand: Hal Derwin.” Billboard 22 Nov. 1947: 36.
  32. “Winter Winters With Hal.” Down Beat 31 Dec. 1947: 9.
  33. “Music as Written: Chicago.” Billboard 12 Jun. 1948: 37.
  34. Hallock, Ted. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 30 Jun. 1948: 4.
  35. “Derwin Crew In At Meadowbrook.” Down Beat 22 Sep. 1948: 3.
  36. “Music as Written: New York.” Billboard 16 Oct. 1948: 44.
  37. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1948: 13.
  38. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 3 Jun. 1949: 14.
  39. Holly, Hal. “The Hollywood Beat.” Down Beat 9 Mar. 1951: 9.
  40. “House Ork Trend Seen In L.A. Hotels.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1951: 15.
  41. “Night Club-Vaude Reviews: Biltmore Bowl, Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles.” Billboard 1 Sep. 1951: 37.
  42. “Night Club-Vaude Reviews: Biltmore Bowl, Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles.” Billboard 1 Aug. 1953: 11.
  43. “Strictly Ad Lib: Hollywood.” Down Beat 11 Aug. 1954: 3.
  44. “United States, Social Security Numerical Identification Files (NUMIDENT), 1936-2007”, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6KQW-RWB8 : 10 February 2023), Hal W Derwin.
  45. “United States 1950 Census,” FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:6XGH-4879 : Wed Oct 04 23:03:35 UTC 2023), Entry for Hal Derwin and Luella Derwin, 10 April 1950.