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Betty Roche: 1920-1999
Betty Roche

Born: January 9, 1920 in Wilmington, Delaware
Died: February 16, 1999 in Pleasantville, New Jersey

Singer With A Feel For Blues

Copyright © 1999 

Roche, Betty Betty (Mary Elizabeth) Roche was most closely associated with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and Ellington himself paid her one of his typically elliptical tributes in these terms in his autobiography: "She had a soul inflection in a bop state of intrigue, and every word was understandable despite the sophisticated hip and jive connotations."

Like Ella Fitzgerald, she began her career by winning an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She sang with the Savoy Sultans in 1941-2, and with Hot Lips Page and Lester Young. She joined Ellington's band in 1943 as a replacement for Ivie Anderson, and did so just in time for the Orchestra's first major Carnegie Hall concert, where she attracted attention for her powerful delivery in Black, Brown and Beige.

She was featured in the "Blues" section of the suite, and was particularly adept on blues songs. Ironically, however, she had left the band before it recorded the piece in the studio, with Joya Sherrill as vocalist (the concert recording with Roche was eventually released in the 1970s), a twist of fate which also applied to her version of "Take The A Train", which she sang in the film Reveille With Beverly in 1943, but did not record until she rejoined the band in 1952, although her version of it on the Ellington Uptown album was greatly acclaimed.

After leaving the Ellington band in 1944, she performed and recorded with Earl Hines, and later worked with Clark Terry and Charles Brown. She introduced more of a bop-influenced style in three solo albums, Take The A Train (Bethlehem,1956), Singin' and Swingin' (Prestige, 1960) and Lightly and Politely (Prestige, 1961).
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