The voice of the big bands.
clear warm tones and precise phrasing are as much a part of the big band sound as the bandleaders' horn solos.
She was featured in three of the name bands of
her era, and for a while she was considered the finest (white) popular vocalist
of the day (although soon a young singer with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
named Frank Sinatra would take that mantle).
Born Helen Fogel in Atlantic City in 1917, she began singing as a teenager. Her brother
featured her in his band in Brooklyn. In the 1930s, she was hired as a staff singer on New York
radio stations like WNEW and WCBS (appearing as "Bonnie Blue").
In 1937, Artie Shaw heard her and asked her to join his orchestra. Forrest would be a co-vocalist with
Billie Holiday, with whom she became friends. When racial discrimination kept Holiday off the stage at several theaters- Forrest
would refuse to perform. (She also was the first white vocalist to record with
Lionel Hampton in 1940.) When Holiday left the band, Forrest became the main vocalist, recording
hits like "All the Things You Are" and "Day In, Day Out."
When Shaw disbanded his group in 1939, Forrest began a two year stint with Benny Goodman,
recording hits such as "Taking a Chance on Love"
and "The Man I Love." The Goodman gig was fairly stressful, and she approached
Harry James about working for him. James already had Dick Haymes to sing ballads,
but after a rehearsal with the band, the band convinced James to hire her.
He did, and set about re-arranging his tunes to feature her voice.
World War 2 audiences clamored for "I've Heard That Song Before,"
"I Had the Craziest Dream" (it would become her signature song), and
"I Don't Want to Walk Without You."
She went solo in 1943 (her illicit romance with James ended when he met Betty Grable
while filming Springtime in the Rockies). Forrest toured clubs and continued recording,
including several duets with Dick Haymes. The two of them would do a weekly radio show for a while, and while other big
band vocalists continued with successful careers in pop music (Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald ), Forrest
became a "nostalgia" singer.
She continued to tour in the 1960s and 1970s, and record into the 1980s (she had over 500 recordings in her career). She sang until the 1990s, when rheumatoid arthritis began to affect
her vocal cords.
She died on July 11, 1999.
Dwight Blocker Bowers and James R. Morris,
Six Decades of Songwriters and Singers, The Smithsonian Collection
of Recordings, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC, 1984.
Holden, Stephen. "Helen Forrest, Singer During the Big Band Era, Dies at 82
." New York Times. and Gorman, Steve. "Big Band Singer Helen Forrest Dead At 82
" Reuters. <http://elvispelvis.com/helenforrest.htm> (14 July 2001)
Mullin, David. Personal Web site. 19 June 2001. <http://www.davidmulliss.com.au/HelenForrest/helenforrest.htm> (14 July 2001)
<http://music.excite.com/artist/biography/8140> (14 July 2001)