Dolores Brown

Biography by

A '40s big-band jazz and rhythm & blues singer, Dolores Brown is quite likely to show up as Delores Brown in discography credits and other references, with apparently no confirmed opinion among researchers…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

A '40s big-band jazz and rhythm & blues singer, Dolores Brown is quite likely to show up as Delores Brown in discography credits and other references, with apparently no confirmed opinion among researchers over which vowel is correct. There is no dispute over what is the most famous story involving Brown, however. That would have to be her 1942 recording of the chilling "Cold Weather Papa" song, done at a time when the American Federation of Musicians recording ban was in place and musicians were effectively frozen out of recording studios. Everyone except harmonica players, that is, because the AFM at that time did not recognize the harmonica as a musical instrument, be it a diatonic, chromatic, echo-harp, or what not. So Brown was backed up on this record by a quartet of harmonica players, each approximating the sound of a rhythm section instrument. This was a quartet of harmonica virtuosos, no less, consisting of Frank C. Andriello of the Polka Dots band with Hy Dolber, Ralph Files, and the brilliant Michael Chimes. The resulting record, released with the similarly arranged "20-99 Blues" on the flipside, actually did fairly well despite the oddball instrumentation.

Brown was paid $25 for the session, which is often cited as an example of producer Joe Davis' genius at experimentation, not to mention getting around legalities and paying bargain-basement wages. It was not the vocalist's first collaboration with Davis. As a vocalist with the Erskine Hawkins big band, she had cut a version of the Davis song "'S'posin'," an example of a tune actually written by Davis, who also had a habit of affixing his name or a pseudonym such as E.V. Body to folk songs or other non-copyrighted material. Brown made her recording debut with Hawkins in 1939, staying with this band for more than a year. While the Hawkins band is definitely admired for its recordings, the praise is rarely lavished on the vocal tracks. Reviews of various reissue compilations of this band are generally of the opinion that the instrumental tracks save the day, balancing out the mediocrity of the vocal numbers. "Harmless if forgettable" is a typical comment about Brown's chirping with this outfit.

In 1943, Brown began singing with the Don Redman Orchestra for an extended engagement at the Zanzibar in New York City. Based on evidence of recordings, she was based out of Brooklyn for much of this decade. Redman utilized her on some recordings for V-Disc at the close of the year, and in 1947 there were several projects involving her for the Sterling label. These include a recording with the honky tonking Bill Doggett and a version of "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" recorded with the vocal group the Auditones and released under their combined names. In the spring of 1948, Brown performed at the resurrection of Spider Kelly's Philadelphia club, singing in front of the Al Russell Trio. She also recorded with bluesman Big John Greer.