Anita O’Day — My Research

Since my mom didn’t talk about her career as a singer, I decided, when I decided to write The Reluctant Canary Sings, to find out what her life may have been like.

Cover Anita O'Day autobiography, High Times, Hard TimesI hoped to learn something about her experience from other female vocalists who started during the late thirties and early forties. When I found Anita O’Day’s autobiography, I found a treasure. High Times, Hard Times describes a life’s beginning much like my mother’s with a divorce and remarriage—Mom’s parents repeatedly separated and came together. I hoped for similarities.

Early in the book when Anita wrote about the Walkathons, the exhaustion, the sore feet, the uncertainty, she wrote, “. . . we signed our photos, ‘For no good reason . . .’ But we were putting fans on. We did it for money, for shelter and food.”

Anita O’Day began her career with those Walkathons at about the same age as Mom began hers, which gave me the idea of starting Bobbi Bowen’s career with a talent contest. I invented a summer orchestra at an amusement park dance pavilion. Park management wanted a female vocalist, so Bobbi entered.

As her career progressed, O’Day moved from orchestra to orchestra, working her way up to better paying positions and finally went on the road. Her talk about the difficulties of being the only woman cooped up on a bus with a bunch of men resonated and gave me some insight.

She talked about the hassle of keeping her gowns fresh, about getting better as a singer and entertainer, about the gimmicks, and about the drugs and booze.

High Times, Hard Times provides a detailed picture of the life of a female vocalist who started in the 1930s and served as a good research source for The Reluctant Canary Sings.

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