When we think of big bands of the 1940s and 50s we might think of Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw – usually men.
But in her day, Leeds musician Ivy Benson and her all-female swing band, Ivy Benson And Her All Girls Orchestra were as famous as all of them.
Ivy Benson rose to fame in the 1940s, topping the bill at the London Palladium and eventually becoming the BBC’s resident dance band leader in 1943. After Europe’s liberation in 1945, her band was specifically requested by General Montgomery to go and entertain the troops. Over the years, hundreds of women played in the orchestra.
Born in a pub in Holbeck, Benson’s father was a trombonist at the Leeds Empire and taught her to play the piano and clarinet. Her father had grand plans for her as a classical musician but as soon as she heard a Benny Goodman record she decided on a swing career and, while working in the Montague Burton factory in Leeds, she saved up to buy her first saxophone. She, reportedly, performed locally as “Baby” Benson.
Benson died in 1993 and in 2011 was commemorated with a blue plaque erected by Leeds Civic Trust in Cemetery Road, Holbeck.
The Crissy Lee Orchestra commemorates Benson and her music at this year’s Marsden Jazz Festival (11-13 October) in a special gig, A Tribute To Ivy Benson, on the Friday night.
Crissy Lee performed with Benson’s band for more than a decade as well as with names including Dinah Washington, Fats Domino, Tom Jones, Lulu and Eartha Kitt. Her own band The Beat Chics supported The Beatles on tour. More recently she led the Skinnerettes, the house band on the Frank Skinner Show.
Festival artistic director Barney Stevenson says, “We are thrilled to be welcoming drumming superstar Crissy Lee to Marsden. Since joining The Ivy Benson Dance Band at the age of 17, she has been at the top of her profession for six decades. Her hand-picked band, which includes sixteen of the finest female jazz musicians in the UK, including star vocalist Jacqui Hicks, promises to be absolutely spectacular.”Crissy Lee Orchestra perform on the Concert Stage at the Parochial Hall as part of Marsden Jazz Festival on Friday 11th October, at 8pm.
Tickets: £25 general / £12.50 age 17-29 / £1 age 16 and under. Tickets can be purchased at marsdenjazzfestival.com or over the phone 0800 6125649.