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Mildred Bailey: Mrs. Swing

Published: 3/20/2012
It's been more than 60 years since Mildred Bailey – a.k.a. Mrs. Swing – died. But the jazz singer is back in the news.

Mildred Bailey (Wikimedia Commons/William P. Gottlieb)
Mildred Bailey (Wikimedia Commons/William P. Gottlieb)

Bailey has long been considered a white woman: in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, she is described as "the first white singer to absorb and master the jazz-flavored phrasing... of her black contemporaries." But the Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Indians wants to change that perception and let the world know that Bailey was, in fact, Native American.

Born in 1907 to a Coeur d'Alene mother, Bailey spent her childhood on a reservation. But when she left at age 13 – and a few years later, moved to Seattle to pursue a singing career – she may have felt she needed to downplay her heritage in order to succeed. Just as black entertainers of the day were confronted with extreme prejudice and racism, so too were Native Americans.

It's a different world today, and more often than not, ethnic heritage is a source of pride. And the Coeur d'Alene can certainly be proud to claim a member as talented as Mildred Bailey.

Written by Linnea Crowther

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