Tommy Taylor

Photo of Tommy Taylor

Singer Tommy Taylor made big news in 1941 when he became Benny Goodman’s first male vocalist in more than five years. As with many Goodman singers, however, Taylor soon fell foul of Goodman’s infamous “ray,” which zapped him out of the band after only four months. Taylor, though, had a solid career outside of his short stint with the King of Swing. From the late 1930s up until he received his draft notice in 1945, he sang with three name bands and appeared on a number of popular radio shows.

Once described as a “husky lad with a fair voice,” Taylor grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, and, according to a 1944 bio, began singing as a choir boy in his local parish. A gifted soprano, he soon earned a spot on Madge Tucker’s Children’s Hour radio program and later appeared on Roxy’s Gang before his voice changed at age 15. Forced to leave radio, Taylor turned to sports, playing high school basketball and winning a scholarship to Niagara College in 1935, where he made the all-state team and studied political theory and sociology. He gave up sports in 1937 to support his parents and brothers, trying several different careers before deciding on a return to singing. Joining a local New Jersey radio station as staff vocalist, he attracted the attention of the networks and is said to have sang with Dinah Shore on WNEW.[1]

By November 1938, Taylor was a regular on the NBC Blue program Lanny Gray’s Rhythm School, where he remained until at least March 1939. In late 1939, he joined Mitchell Ayres’s orchestra, becoming one of its stars. Taylor handled a variety of material, from simple ballads to humorous novelty tunes, often singing duets with Mary Ann Mercer.[2] Taylor quickly made a name for himself as Ayres’ vocalist. He appeared in three soundies for Minoco with the band, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “McNamara’s Band,” and “You’re a Lucky Fellow, Mr. Smith,” the latter featuring a duet with Mercer.

Taylor married his high school sweetheart, Ethel Wise, in May 1940. The couple tied the knot in New York and then flew to St. Louis, where Taylor rejoined Ayres. Two days later, he left on a series of one-nighters. Palisades Park, New Jersey, near his hometown, named July 30, 1940, as Tommy Taylor day.[3]

In mid-1941, Goodman decided to hire a male vocalist for the first time since the very early days of his band. At first, he tried to lure Dick Haymes away from Harry James. When negotiations with Haymes failed, Goodman offered the job to Taylor, who gave notice to Ayres and joined the King of Swing in July 1941, approximately at the same time as did Peggy Lee. Taylor failed to live up to Goodman’s expectations, however, and in November Goodman released him in favor of a new singing discovery, former football player Art London.[4]

By March 1942, Taylor had joined Teddy Powell’s band, where he sang opposite and sometimes with Peggy Mann. He remained with Powell through at least May 1943, after which he decided to quit the music business. Tired of being on the road, he took a job loading trucks for Sheffield Dairy. This lasted for about five weeks before he’d had enough, and he made his way to NBC for an audition. By August, Taylor had his own sustaining program, Taylor Made Songs, broadcast three times a week on the Blue Network. He also appeared on the network’s Saturday Showdown. In March 1944, he recorded two songs on Capitol Records with Billy Butterfield’s orchestra as part of an album of Gershwin tunes. His NBC sustainer lasted through at least June 1944. He then appeared on NBC’s Sunny Side of the Street, where he was in March 1945 when he received his draft notice. Billy Usher replaced him on the program.

What Taylor did in the service or at what point he received his discharge is unknown. In August 1947, he joined Butterfield’s orchestra as a singer and, according to one source, also the band’s road manager. He then disappears from history.


  1. This 1944 bio misstated a few facts, so, as usual for artist bios in this time period, everything it said should be taken with a grain of salt. ↩︎

  2. One Down Beat magazine article identified Taylor as Ayres’ pianist as well as the band’s singer, which is probably a mistake. Nowhere else is it mentioned that he played piano. One local newspaper ad in 1940 also billed him as a “comical drummer,” which is definitely false. ↩︎

  3. Actually, if Down Beat is to be taken literally, Palisades Park named July 30 as “Tommy Taylor” day, with quotations around his name. The alliterative Tommy Taylor may not be his real name. ↩︎

  4. London later changed his last name to Lund. ↩︎


  1. “KUTA.” The Salt Lake Tribune 15 Nov. 1938: 19.
  2. “On The Radio.” Newburyport Daily News [Newburyport, Massachusetts] 24 Jan. 1939: 5.
  3. “Program Reviews: Lanny Gray's Rhythm School.” Billboard 11 Mar. 1939: 10.
  4. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 20 Apr. 1940: 22.
  5. Advertisement. “Mitchell Ayres.” Warren Times-Mirror [Warren, Pennsylvania] 11 Jul. 1940: 2.
  6. “Tommy Taylor Honored.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1940: 23.
  7. Advertisement. “Mitchell Ayres.” Billboard 28 Sep. 1940: 40.
  8. “Night Club Reviews: Hotel St. George, Bermuda Terrace, Brooklyn.” Billboard 21 Dec. 1940: 18.
  9. “On the Records: Mitchell Ayres.” Billboard 15 Feb. 1941: 67.
  10. “New Soundies Reels.” Billboard 15 Mar. 1941: 61.
  11. Oldfield, Barney. “Theater Topics.” Billboard 25 May 1941: D-6.
  12. “Les Robinson On Notice as BG Hits Chi.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1941: 1.
  13. “Tommy Taylor To Goodman.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1941: 2.
  14. “Simmons, with B.G.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1941: 2.
  15. “Here's Tommy Taylor.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1941: 11.
  16. “Vaudeville Reviews: State, New York.” Billboard 19 Sep. 1942: 16.
  17. “It's Meredith.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1942: 16.
  18. “Night Club Reviews: Town House, Zebra Room, Los Angeles.” Billboard 18 Oct. 1941: 19.
  19. “BG and Miller Change Their Lineups.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1941: 2.
  20. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 71.
  21. “On the Air: Teddy Powell.” Billboard 30 May 1942: 25.
  22. “Vaudeville Reviews: Loew-Lyric, Bridgeport, Connecticut.” Billboard 3 Oct. 1942: 16.
  23. “Movie Machine Reviews.” Billboard 17 Oct. 1942: 68.
  24. “Powell, Ellington Pull Fat Grosses At Philly Stands.” Billboard 27 Feb. 1943: 14.
  25. “On the Air: Teddy Powell.” Billboard 27 Mar. 1943: 22.
  26. “Radio Roundup.” Kingsport Times [Kingsport, Tennessee] 2 May 1943: 13.
  27. “NBC Has Own Singing Pride.” Down Beat 1 Sep. 1943: 2.
  28. “Too Short for a Head.” Billboard 2 Oct. 1943: 7.
  29. Vale, Virginia. “Star Dust.” The Stromsburg Headlight [Stromsburg, Nebraska] 28 Oct. 1943: n.p.
  30. Rathbun, Joe. “Joe's Radio Parade.” The Sunday Zanesville Times-Signal [Zanesville, Ohio] 30 Apr. 1944: 1-11.
  31. “NY Music Men Say Bing Best.” Billboard 3 Jun. 1944: 11.
  32. Rathbun, Joe. “Joe's Radio Parade.” The Sunday Zanesville Times-Signal [Zanesville, Ohio] 18 Mar. 1945: 2-10.
  33. “Diggin' the Discs.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1945: 8.
  34. “Music as Written.” Billboard 9 Aug. 1947: 41.
  35. “Trade Tattle.” Down Beat 13 Aug. 1947: 18.