Too Restless for the Duke
Betty Farmer once rejected Duke Ellington. A jazz singer who made her debut with a Dixieland band in her native New Orleans as a teenager, she toured with Mr. Ellington in the 1960's and 1970's and in 1972 performed with him in Carnegie Hall. But when Mr. Ellington offered her a long-term contract, her daughter said, she turned it down. "My mother was a free spirit," said Kathryn Nesbit, 38. "She said Duke, 'I love you, but I'd be bored out of my mind.' "
Ms. Farmer, 62 and divorced, performed in clubs and jazz festivals, lived in different cities and once owned a nightclub in Denver. She also had a son, Shawn Farmer, 42, who died this year. In 1997, she moved to New York City at the urging of Ms. Nesbit, who told her "you have to go. It's for you."
Ms. Nesbit was right. Ms. Farmer made new friends, started playing the guitar and, although on a singing hiatus, was preparing a comeback. David Jung, an actor and comedian, said Ms. Farmer had agreed to lend her big, sultry voice and gift for comedy to a number of sketches he was going to tape for a comedy show bound for the theater.
Ms. Farmer's most recent job was with Cantor Fitzgerald, where she worked as an executive assistant for three weeks.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on November 19, 2001.