In the 1930s, Ina Ray Hutton conducted, tapped, and sang as the “blonde bombshell bandleader,” strutting her stuff in front of her all–female swing band, the Melodears. She led bands through the 1950s — in clubs, in movies, on TV, on the USO circuit — and was the first female bandleader to be recorded and filmed. She wasn’t a legend or an innovator, but a hard–working musician who played a role in jazz history.
Decades later, a news reporter from KUOW in Seattle looked at one of her albums and felt something was odd: the blonde bombshell, she thought, might have been black. Phyllis Fletcher discovered that Ina Ray Hutton had been passing as white — hiding in the spotlight.
Note: This story from Studio 360 received a Gracie Award for Outstanding Portrait/Biography.
(Image: Ina Ray Hutton in her teens (Courtesy of Susan Stordahl Porter))