Ina Ray Hutton

Photo of Ina Ray Hutton
  • Birth Name

    Odessa Cowen
  • Born

    March 13, 1916
    Chicago, Illinois
  • Died

    February 19, 1984 (age 67)
    Ventura, California
  • Featured Vocalists

    Stuart Foster
    June Hutton

The most prominent female bandleader of the swing era, Ina Ray Hutton came to fame during the 1930s with her all-girl orchestra, the Melodears. Her glamorous looks and seductive stage persona earned her the nickname “Blonde Bombshell of Rhythm.” Hutton dropped her glamour act in 1939 and got serious, forming an all-male band that debuted the following year and remained active through the war years. While Hutton’s later band initially attracted attention, it never managed to break through to the top.

Though Hutton passed for white in later years, she was actually of mixed-race heritage, being identified as “mulatto” on the 1920 census and “negro” on the 1930 census. Both her parents were considered black, as was she, by legal definitions of the time. Hutton grew up in the Chicago home of her maternal grandparents, along with her mother and younger sister, June, who later went on to fame as vocalist June Hutton. The girls’ mother was a musician who used the stage name Marvel Williams.[1] Ina Ray’s father, Odie Cowen, was June’s legal father but not her biological father. Cowen and Williams had separated by the time of June’s birth but were still married. Marvel remarried in 1922 to fellow musician Raymond Whitsett. By the mid-1930s, Ina Ray, June, and their mother were identifying as white on public records, as was Odie.

Hutton began singing and dancing at the age of eight. She worked on Broadway during the early 1930s, appearing in the Ziegfeld Follies and the George White Scandals, before being asked in 1934 by booking agent Irving Mills to front an all-girl orchestra. Quite unusual for its time, the Melodears quickly made a name for themselves, appearing in three Paramount musical shorts in 1935, but by the late 1930s the act had lost its novelty. June joined the band as a vocalist in 1937, singing under the name Elaine Merritt both solo and as part of the Winsteads vocal trio. Ina Ray herself also sang.

Male Orchestra

Hutton disbanded the Melodears in mid-1939 and married agent Charles Doerwald that July. She began rehearsing an all-male orchestra later that year, telling Down Beat magazine that she was “through with all this flash and glamour stuff” and wanted a band that would “attract attention by its music and nothing else.” The new group made its debut in spring 1940, impressing both critics and audiences. Stuart Foster served as male vocalist, while Hutton handled female vocals. The early orchestra also featured the Kim Loo Sisters, a Chinese-American trio. The band recorded on Okeh in 1940 and 1941 and on Hit in 1941 and 1942.[2]

In February 1942, Hutton hired sax player and arranger George Paxton, to whom she reportedly offered fifty percent of her profits to join the band. Paxton played a large part in the orchestra’s continuing success, becoming musical director and de facto leader, leaving Hutton to front the band. Paxton left in May 1944 to form his own group, and Hutton temporarily disbanded in August, citing a need to rest. She returned to the bandstand in December. Foster again served as male vocalist but left in February 1945 for Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra.

Difficulties with her booking office forced Hutton to disband in mid-1945. After taking her case to the musicians’ union, she put together a new outfit in December, preparing for a February 1946 debut. She disbanded again in December 1946 but had put together a new orchestra by August 1948, which lasted at least through October.

Later Years

In mid-1947, Hutton became involved in a scandal when the wife of bandleader Randy Brooks filed for separation and accused Hutton of having an affair with her husband. Hutton and Brooks married in April 1949 and settled on the West Coast, where she formed a new all-girl orchestra which appeared on a regional television program from 1950 to 1955, with a brief network run in 1956. She and Brooks divorced at some point after 1954. She married twice more, to Michael Anter in 1958 and John Curtis in 1963.

Ina Ray Hutton retired from music in 1968 and passed away in 1984, at age 67, of complications from diabetes.


  1. Williams was the surname of Marvel’s step-mother. Marvel’s real last name was McFall. She later adopted her daughters’ stage name, Hutton. ↩︎

  2. Bob Anthony reportedly sang with Hutton’s orchestra at some point before the war, likely in the very early band, prior to Foster joining, or perhaps as a substitute for Foster at a later time. ↩︎


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Who's Who in Music: Presenting Ina Ray Hutton's Band.” Down Beat Jun. 1939: 13.
  3. “Ina Ray Hutton Drops Girls for Male Band.” Down Beat Jul. 1939: 1.
  4. Toll, Ted. “Panning By Critic Didn't Influence Me.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1939: 19.
  5. Flynn, Ed. “Blonde Bombshell Says She's Through with Glamor Stuff.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1940: 1.
  6. “Ace Sidemen Dot Ina Ray's New Outfit.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1940: 1.
  7. Doudna, William L. “Notes to You.” The Wisconsin State Journal [Madison, Wisconsin] 2 Oct. 1940: 3.
  8. Advertisement. Fitchburg Sentinel [Fitchburg, Massachusetts] 23 Apr. 1941: 5.
  9. Advertisement. Fitchburg Sentinel [Fitchburg, Massachusetts] 23 Apr. 1941: 5.
  10. Advertisement. Cumberland Evening Times 25 Jul. 1941: 17.
  11. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 14 Mar. 1942: 20.
  12. “Hutton Loses Five Men to Uncle Sam.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1942: 21.
  13. “On the Stand: Ina Ray Hutton.” Billboard 15 Aug. 1942: 22.
  14. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Los Angeles.” Billboard 14 Nov. 1942: 16.
  15. “Vaudeville Reviews: Earle, Philadelphia.” Billboard 4 Dec. 1943: 21.
  16. “Vaudeville Reviews: Orpheum, Los Angeles.” Billboard 13 May 1944: 26.
  17. “Carlos Molina In San Francisco.” Down Beat 15 May 1944: 7.
  18. “Ina Ray Hutton Disbands Ork.” Billboard 19 Aug. 1944: 15.
  19. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1944: 5.
  20. “Ina Ray Hutton Sets Band for Theater Dates.” Billboard 9 Dec. 1944: 22.
  21. Advertisement. Manitowoc Herald Times [Manitowoc, Wisconsin] 29 Dec. 1944: 2.
  22. “Ina Ray Hutton Back On Stand.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1945: 11.
  23. “Ina Ray Puts New Ork Into Rehearsal.” Down Beat 28 Jan. 1946: 3.
  24. “Trade Tattle.” Down Beat 9 Sep. 1946: 21.
  25. “Philly Ramblings Among Jazzmen.” Down Beat 18 Nov. 1946: 15.
  26. “Randy Brooks' Wife Name Hutton.” Down Beat 16 Jul. 1947: 1.
  27. “Cincy Hotel Thinks Twice; Hires Band.” Down Beat 25 Aug. 1948: 3.
  28. “Chicago Band Briefs.” Down Beat 6 Oct. 1948: 5.
  29. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 20 May 1949: 10.
  30. “Sidemen Switches.” Down Beat 30 Jun. 1950: 6.
  31. “Los Angeles Band Briefs.” Down Beat 3 Nov. 1950: 8.
  32. “Ina Ray Ork In San Diego.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1950: 3.
  33. “Ina Ray Ork Looks Good On TV.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1950: 13.
  34. “Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1949,” FamilySearch ( : Wed Nov 15 09:35:39 UTC 2023), Entry for Odessa Cowan and Odie Daniel Cowan.
  35. “United States Census, 1920,” FamilySearch ( : Sat Dec 23 01:08:48 UTC 2023), Entry for Bailey McFall and Minnie McFall, 1920.
  36. “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch ( : Fri Oct 06 06:57:28 UTC 2023), Entry for Bailey McFall and Minnie McFall, 1930.
  37. “Virginia, Marriage Certificates, 1936-1988,” FamilySearch ( : Sun Oct 15 16:36:35 UTC 2023), Entry for Charles D Doerwald and Charles C Doerwald, 29 Jul 1939.
  38. “California, County Marriages, 1850-1953,” FamilySearch ( : Thu Oct 19 15:52:32 UTC 2023), Entry for Randolph Everett Brooks and Ina Ray Hutton, 10 Apr 1949.
  39. “United States 1950 Census,” FamilySearch ( : Tue Oct 03 08:36:56 UTC 2023), Entry for Ina Ray Brooks and Opal Benchanan, 10 April 1950.
  40. “Nevada Marriage Index, 1956-2005,” database, FamilySearch ( : 21 July 2021), Ina Ray Hutton and Michael Anter.
  41. “California Marriage Index, 1960-1985,” FamilySearch ( : 26 January 2024), Ina R Cowan in entry for John F Curtis, 1963.
  42. “California Death Index, 1940-1997,” FamilySearch ( : 26 November 2014), Ina Ray Curtis, 19 Feb 1984; Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento.