4 Meet the Queen of Swing, Mildred Rinker Bailey

Meet the Queen of Swing, Mildred Rinker Bailey

Rebekka Boysen-Taylor

Meet the Queen of Swing, Mildred Rinker Bailey

Black and white photo of Mildred Bailey, a Black Native jazz singer
Mildred Bailey photographed by William P. Gottlieb in New York City, 1947

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Context given:

Despite living in a racially stratified 1930s U.S., Mildred Bailey never sought to hide the fact that she was born into the Coeur d’Alene tribe of Idaho. Rather, it was a source of personal pride that she readily shared with her associates.

Cast within a jazz narrative that left no room for Native Americans, the public image of Bailey as a “white” jazz singer mattered for many reasons—not least, because she exerted considerable influence within the jazz and pop world, pioneering the vocal swing style that countless singers sought to emulate.

Bailey pointed to the Coeur d’Alene songs of her youth as a major factor in shaping her style:

“I don’t know whether this music compares with jazz or the classics, but I do know that it offers a young singer a remarkable background and training. It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that made it squeak; it removes the boom from the contralto voice, this Indian singing does, because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover an awful range.”

Some other words for expanded context…

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Expanded Context:

While the roots of many American music traditions are typically attributed to African American influences, Indigenous influences are also present. Watch the award-winning documentary Rumble to learn more about Indigenous artists, including Mildred Bailey. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6333080/

In 2012, the Coeur d’Alene tribe began working to ensure Mildred Bailey’s legacy is honored within and beyond her tribal nation. To learn more, check out this 60-second listen from an NPR interview with Couer d’ Alene Tribal Chairman, Chief Allan. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=148715100

Efforts to honor Mildred’s contributions include tribal members and Idahoans. Coeur d’ Alene musician Julia O’ Keefe, who performs Mildred’s music all over the country, focused on the path she has taken to demand that Mildred’s work be recognized alongside the famous performers she inspired and encouraged. https://www.montanaseniornews.com/mildred-bailey/


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Meet the Queen of Swing, Mildred Rinker Bailey Copyright © 2023 by Rebekka Boysen-Taylor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.