Sunday, April 21, 2024


One of the early recording era's brightest stars was Vaughn De Leath. She was a mega star in the 1920s, but she is not very well remembered today. Born on September 26, 1894, Vaughn gained popularity in the 1920s, earning the sobriquets "The Original Radio Girl" and the "First Lady of Radio.De Leath was an early exponent, and often credited as inventor, of a style of vocalizing known as crooning. One of her hit songs, "Are You Lonesome Tonight?," recorded in 1927, achieved fame when it became a hit for Elvis Presley in 1960.

In January 1920, inventor and radio pioneer Lee DeForest brought her to the cramped studio of his station, 2XG, located in New York City's World's Tower, where De Leath broadcast "Swanee River". Although not, as is sometimes stated, the first broadcast of live singing, she established herself as a skilled radio performer, and De Forest would later note: "She was an instant success. Her voice and her cordial, unassuming microphone presence were ideally suited to the novel task. Without instruction she seemed to sense exactly what was necessary in song and patter to successfully put herself across". According to some historical accounts of this incident, having been advised that high notes sung in her natural soprano might shatter the fragile vacuum tubes of her carbon microphone's amplifier, De Leath switched to a deep contralto and in the process invented "crooning", which became the dominant pop vocal styling for the next three decades.

Her recording career began in 1921. Over the next decade she recorded for a number of labels, including Edison, Columbia, Victor, Okeh, Gennett, and Brunswick. She occasionally recorded for the subsidiary labels of some of these companies under various pseudonyms. These included Gloria Geer, Mamie Lee, Sadie Green, Betty Brown, Nancy Foster, Marion Ross, Glory Clarke, Angelina Marco, and Gertrude Dwyer. De Leath had a highly versatile range of styles, and as material required could adapt as a serious balladeer, playful girl, vampish coquette, or vaudeville comedian.

In 1923, she became one of the first women to manage a radio station, WDT in New York City, over which she also performed and led a sixty-piece orchestra. In 1928 she appeared on an experimental television broadcast, and later became a special guest for the debut broadcast of The Voice of Firestone radio show. She also was one of the first American entertainers to broadcast to Europe via transatlantic radio transmission.

De Leath made her last recording in 1931 for the Crown label. She made her final nationwide network performances in the early 1930s. In her waning years, she made radio appearances on local New York stations, including WBEN in Buffalo.

De Leath was married twice. In 1924 she wed artist Leon Geer, from whom she was divorced in 1935. The following year, she married musician Irwin Rosenbloom, from whom she was divorced in 1941.

In 1931, De Leath sued Kate Smith for using the "First Lady of the Radio" designation. Although Smith desisted for a time, she resumed the mantle after De Leath's death.After her career went into decline, De Leath endured considerable financial difficulties, complicated by a drinking problem, which contributed to her death at age 48 in Buffalo, New York. Her obituary in The New York Times incorrectly stated her age at death as 42. Her ashes were buried in her childhood home of Mount Pulaski, Illinois. Vaughn De Leath did too young and was forgotten too soon...

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