Bob Allen

Singer and bandleader Bob Allen made his name as a vocalist for Hal Kemp in the late 1930s before forming his own orchestra in 1941. Allen’s band caused much excitement in late 1942 when it played the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, and for a short while it looked like it might emerge as one of the top orchestras in the nation. The American Federation of Musicians recording ban during that period, however, crippled any chance Allen’s group had of capitalizing on its sudden fame. Allen eventually disbanded after receiving his draft notice, and he spent the rest of the decade as a band vocalist again before retiring from the music industry.

Allen grew up on a farm just outside Cincinnati. Wanting to pursue a singing career, he left home and moved into the city, studying voice at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and taking a job at a drug store next to a theater. When Ben Bernie’s band rolled into town in 1933, Bernie put out a call for local talent. One of Allen’s friends earned a spot as a singer, and she took him backstage to meet Bernie. Bernie used him in a show and encouraged him to go to Chicago.

Following Bernie’s encouragement, Allen took a leave of absence from the drug store and bought a round-trip ticket, hoping for the best but not expecting to succeed. Once in Chicago, he auditioned at radio station WBBM, who sent him to the Blackhawk Restaurant, where Hal Kemp’s orchestra needed a second male vocalist. Allen remained with Kemp’s band for the rest of its existence, sharing the stage at first with Skinnay Ennis. Ennis sang numbers that required an intimate feeling, while Allen sang those that needed power. When Ennis left Kemp in 1938, Allen became the lead. He proved popular, placing seventh in the category of best male band vocalist in Billboard magazine’s 1941 college poll.

After Kemp lost his life in an automobile accident in December 1940, Allen was in the running to take over as leader. The orchestra, though, began to fall apart without Kemp’s leadership and broke up shortly thereafter. Allen then went solo for the next several months, playing club dates and briefly filling in for Frank Sinatra in Tommy Dorsey’s band when Sinatra was out sick for a few days.[1]

As Bandleader

At the end of July 1941, Allen took over Vince Patti’s Cleveland, Ohio, band. Allen, who had seemed shy and reserved with Kemp, livened up leading his own group, waving his baton enthusiastically and smiling at the crowd. His naturally good looks charmed many a young female dancer. The band performed songs that Allen had sung with Kemp as well as new numbers, though they didn’t imitate the musical style of Allen’s former boss, instead opting for a sound described as “sweet swing.”

The average age of the orchestra members at the start was only 20 years old. Only Allen and arranger Harold Mooney were over 21. Though the band received good reviews initially, audiences finally started to take notice after Allen brought in former Kemp bandmate and trumpet player Randy Brooks to handle the musical side, freeing Allen to focus on fronting and singing. With Brooks’s musical direction, the orchestra was finally able to crack the tough New York hotel market.

Allen handled all male vocals himself. Dottie Reid became female vocalist in November, leaving by May 1942. Judy Starr, another former Kemp chirp, was initially considered to replace her, however Merry Eilers took her spot. The Four Stuart Sisters also joined in May 1942. Lynn Gardner became female vocalist in September. When Gardner left in March 1943, Paula Kelly took her place, leaving in June. Virginia Maxey than sang, leaving in August for Charlie Barnet. Mary LaMarr took her place. Marion Fran also sang at some point.

While Allen’s band managed to draw crowds, the beginning of the American Federation of Musicians’ recording ban on August 1, 1942, destroyed any chance he had of capitalizing on their popularity. Allen only recorded four sides prior to the ban, all for the small Beacon label, which existed solely to plug songs for the Joe Davis Music Company. When Glenn Miller disbanded his group to join the Army Air Force in September 1942, the Hotel Pennsylvania signed Allen’s orchestra to fill Miller’s slot in the ballroom, putting them in the spotlight and causing a sensation. Both critics and audiences raved about them. Wartime production cuts had hit the industry hard by that time, though, and Beacon couldn’t produce enough copies of Allen’s disks to supply the demand created by that prestigious booking.

The Hotel Pennsylvania booking did boost Allen’s prospects in two ways however. In October 1942, Allen secured a recording contract with Bluebird and a film contract with 20th Century Fox. Neither would bring any return. The recording ban didn’t end until November 1944, and it wasn’t until late 1943 when Fox cast Allen and his group in Greenwich Village, with Carmen Miranda and Don Ameche. In January 1944, however, Allen received his draft notice and had to disband, deciding not to reform when he was reclassified 4-F. Allen’s orchestra had been expensive to maintain. His musicians and singers had earned top dollar, and he was a reported $50,000 in debt to his backers.

Post-Bandleading Career

On his own now, Allen joined Tommy Dorsey as a vocalist, leaving the following year for the Army. After his discharge in 1946, he sang with Hoagy Carmichael. In 1947, he joined Carmen Cavallaro, and in 1948 he was part of Ziggy Elman’s band. He finally retired from show business and moved to Encino, California, where he went into the woodworking business.


  1. Sinatra’s absence touched off rumors that he was leaving Dorsey. It would be another year-and-a-half before he actually did. ↩︎

Vocalist Timeline

Merry Eilers
Four Stuart Sisters
Mary LaMarr

Note: Dates may be approximate. Some vocalists may not be listed due to lack of information on their dates of employment.


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Kemp's Singer Began His Career In A Drug Store.” The Auburn Plainsman [Auburn, Alabama] 19 Jan. 1940: 4.
  3. “Bob Allen May Front Kemp Ork.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1941: 1.
  4. “Club Talent.” Billboard 8 Feb. 1941: 21.
  5. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 19 Apr. 1941: 12.
  6. Humphrey, Harold. “Talent and Tunes On Music Machines.” Billboard 2 Aug. 1941: 71.
  7. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 9 Aug. 1941: 11.
  8. “On the Stand: Bob Allen.” Billboard 13 Sep. 1941: 13.
  9. “On the Stand: Bob Allen.” Billboard 27 Sep. 1941: 44.
  10. “Dottie Reid Set With Bob Allen.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1941: 27.
  11. “Bob Allen Ork Hits Broadway.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1942: 7.
  12. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 3 Jan. 1942: 13.
  13. “On the Radio: Bob Allen.” Billboard 10 Jan. 1942: 14.
  14. “Bob Allen into Blue Gardens.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1942: 4.
  15. “On the Stand: Windsor, Bronx, N.Y.” Billboard 4 Apr. 1942: 19.
  16. “More Changes in Spanier Band.” Down Beat 1 May 1942: 4.
  17. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  18. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 23 May 1942: 21.
  19. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 6 Jun. 1942: 21.
  20. “Bob Allen Signed By Beacon Records.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1942: 9.
  21. “Allen Draws Holdover.” Billboard 1 Aug. 1942: 23.
  22. “On the Records.” Billboard 8 Aug. 1942: 20.
  23. “Local 802 Clips Allen on Local Air Time Scale Violation.” Billboard 8 Aug. 1942: 21.
  24. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 8 Aug. 1942: 23.
  25. “On the Records.” Billboard 22 Aug. 1942: 68.
  26. “Bob Allen Given Miller Location.” Billboard 26 Sep. 1942: 23.
  27. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 3 Oct. 1942: 23.
  28. “Victor Rounds Up New Band Talent.” Billboard 17 Oct. 1942: 62.
  29. Levin, Mike. “Bob Allen Now Sensational.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1942: 2.
  30. “Herman, Allen for '43 Pix.” Billboard 7 Nov. 1942: 20.
  31. Carter, Dick. “Talent and Tunes on Music Machines.” Billboard 3 Oct. 1942: 67.
  32. “Bob Allen Signed for Penn, Capitol.” Billboard 20 Mar. 1943: 26.
  33. “Virginia Maxey Joins Bob Allen.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1943: 1.
  34. “Picture Tie-Ups for Movie Machine Operators.” Billboard 6 Nov. 1943: 64.
  35. Chasins, Gladys. “Talent and Tunes on Movie Machines.” Billboard 8 Jan. 1944: 65.
  36. “New Dough for New Bands.” Billboard 22 Jan. 1944: 20.
  37. Chasins, Gladys. “Talent and Tunes on Movie Machines.” Billboard 29 Jan. 1944: 64.
  38. “On the Stand: Tommy Dorsey.” Billboard 29 Apr. 1944: 18.
  39. “New Records: Hoagy Carmichael.” Billboard 18 May 1946: 35.
  40. “On the Stand: Carmen Cavallaro.” Billboard 22 Feb. 1947: 19.
  41. “Record Reviews: Carmen Cavallaro.” Billboard 11 Oct. 1947: 34.
  42. “On the Stand: Ziggy Elman.” Billboard 11 Sep. 1948: 37.
  43. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1949: 10.