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September 14, 2021

Ruth Olay, 1924-2021

From The Desert Sun:

Jazz singer Ruth Olay, who performed with Duke Ellington, dies in Desert Hot Springs at 97

Brian Blueskye
Palm Springs Desert Sun

Ruth Olay, a jazz vocalist who performed with Duke Ellington and Benny Carter, died at her Desert Hot Springs home on Sept. 3 at the age of 97.

According to her publicist, Olay died of natural causes, and there are no current plans for a memorial service. She's survived by her daughter, Amy, from her first marriage to Lionel Olay and a son, Adam, from her marriage to music producer and manager Lee Magid.

Olay was born on July 1, 1924, in San Francisco to a Rabbi father — who eventually became head of research at Warner Brothers — and a professional choral singer mother who sang for film musicals and at the Hollywood Bowl. Olay was a piano prodigy during her childhood but became interested in singing due to her mother's work.

She worked as a secretary at Twenty-First Century Fox as a teenager while taking singing lessons with Florence Russell, who also taught actress and singer Dorothy Dandridge.

While performing at many jazz clubs in Los Angeles, she met Ivie Anderson, who was a vocalist for Duke Ellington's band. Anderson had come out of retirement and was singing every Sunday at the Streets of Paris club on Hollywood Boulevard. One night at the club, Olay made her live debut following an introduction by Anderson.

Olay landed her first professional job as a singer in jazz saxophonist Benny Carter's orchestra in 1951 using the moniker Rachel Davis, which was assigned to her by Carter to avoid troubles that might arise as a white Jewish woman traveling with a mostly black band.

Due to her dark complexion and short curly hair, it was assumed she was Black, but Olay was of Hungarian ancestry.

Following her four-week stint singing in Carter's band, she worked as a singing waitress at Cabaret Concert Theatre before being discovered by an arranger named Bill Hitchcock. He offered her the opportunity to record an album on Zephyr Records. Her debut album, "It's About Time," was released in 1956. She later signed to Mercury and released "OLAY! The New Sound of Ruth Olay" in 1958.

The success of "OLAY! The New Sound of Ruth Olay" led to several appearances on TV shows such as "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Steve Allen Show" and "Playboy's Penthouse" with Hugh Hefner. She appeared with Duke Ellington on the "Jackie Gleason Timex Show" and performed with him again on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson."

During her later career, she recorded for the labels Everest, ABC-Paramount and Laurel. Olay was also a regular performer at the Vine St. Bar and Grill in Hollywood.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,Music | permalink | September 14, 2021 at 01:16 PM

Comments

Correction: Mom met Ivie Anderson at a party in Los angeles, and didn't start singing in jazz clubs until later. This was a seminal moment, and Mom's first experience singing in fron of others was at the encouragement that night of Ivie. I wish the Desert Sun would correct this, for unless there was a time machine involved, how could that night have been her "debut" if she was already (erroneously) singing for years in L.A. clubs? They really need a proofreader!

Posted by: Adam Magid at Sep 20, 2021 3:24:30 PM

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