According to Life magazine spokeswoman Sandy Drayton, singer- bandleader Billy Eckstine never appeared on the cover of that magazine, as was reported yesterday. Instead, an article about Eckstine appeared in the April 24, 1950 issue. (Published 3/10/93)
Billy Eckstine, 78, the singer-bandleader whose warm baritone graced a string of post-World War II hits such as "Fools Rush In" and "Everything I Have Is Yours," died March 8 while undergoing treatment at Montefiore Hospital in Pittsburgh.
Mr. Eckstine, who lived in Las Vegas, recently had suffered a stroke.
Known as Mr. B, he established a new and romantic style of singing, delivering ballads in a strong, vibrant baritone, with impeccable diction. One of America's most popular vocalists in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he drew bigger audiences at New York's Paramount theater in 1950 than record-setter Frank Sinatra. That same year, touring with the George Shearing Quintet, he had two sold-out concerts at Carnegie Hall in one day. There were said to be 80,000 Eckstine fan clubs in the United States, Canada and England.
Billy Eckstine was the first black singer to make the cover of Life magazine and the first to develop an international appeal through his interpretation of love songs. He had a host of imitators, set trends in fashion and was pursued by bobby-soxers. Hip young men copied the elegant singer's style of dress -- shirts with rolled collars and jackets draped off the body.
His hit records included "A Cottage for Sale," "Prisoner of Love," "I Surrender, Dear," "Everything I Have Is Yours," "Blue Moon," "My Foolish Heart," "Caravan," "Body and Soul" and "I Apologize."
His career took a pounding late in the 1950s as rock-and-roll gained in popularity. But he rebounded with a series of hit albums for Mercury Records and was in great demand on the nightclub circuit. His last big hit was "Passing Strangers," a duet with Sarah Vaughan.
Mr. Eckstine, who also played valve trombone, directed a band that at one time or another included Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey and Lucky Thompson, as well as Vaughan.
Unlike most swing bands that accompanied singers, the Eckstine band played powerful, thick chords and rhythmically complex figures. It is credited with being the first big bop band.
He was born William Clarence Eckstein -- he changed the spelling of his name when he was an adult -- in Pittsburgh, where he lived until he was a teenager. He then moved to Washington and attended Armstrong High School, where his sister taught. He also studied physical education at St. Paul Normal and Industrial School in Lawrenceville, Va., and attended Howard University.
During his student years, Mr. Eckstine was more interested in football than in music. But at age 19, he won the first of many amateur shows and a week's engagement with the band at Washington's Howard Theater. Mr. Eckstine won the $10 prize by imitating Cab Calloway, singing a nursery rhyme lyric with interpolated scatting.
He went on to work at small clubs and theaters in Washington and Pittsburgh, then sang for two years at the De Lisa Club in Chicago.
He was hired as vocalist with the Grand Terrace Orchestra of Earl "Fatha" Hines in 1939. Three years later, Mr. Eckstine heard Vaughan at an amateur show and encouraged Hines to hire her. While with Hines, Mr. Eckstine taught himself to play trumpet and valve trombone. He recorded as vocalist on two blues hits, "Jelly, Jelly" and "Stormy Monday."
In the 1930s and 1940s, the heyday of radio, music publishers who wanted to plug their new songs would take them to orchestras with national broadcasting contracts.
"They usually wouldn't give the songs to black singers because they thought black singers didn't have clear-enough diction," Mr. Eckstine recalled in a 1974 interview. "This was in the day of 'race records.' They gave blues to black singers. But Earl fought against that. I was given plug songs by the big publishers. I did 'Skylark,' and my version outsold Bing Crosby's."
Mr. Eckstine left Hines in 1943 and spent a year as a solo nightclub act before founding his own big band, which featured the then-emerging be-bop style.
The band was active only three years during the mid-1940s, but had pivotal influence on be-bop. While Mr. Eckstine's focus on love songs pushed him to wider stardom, he continued to believe in bop.
It influenced his own records, and he gave work and encouragement to many of its players. He also wrote a few tunes of his own. John Coltrane was so fascinated by one of them, "I Want to Talk About You," that he recorded it several times.
Mr. Eckstine was twice divorced. His survivors include seven children, four grandchildren and a great-grandchild. A son, Ed, is president of Mercury Records, and another son, Guy, heads Mercury's jazz division. A daughter, Gina, is a singer in Las Vegas and toured with her father in the 1980s.
MARY E. ALEXANDER
Mary Elizabeth Alexander, 72, a retired government clerk who was active in church groups, died March 3 at George Washington University Hospital. She had diabetes.
Miss Alexander, a Washington resident, attended Duquesne University in her native Pennsylvania before moving here in 1942 and beginning her government career with the Office of Price Administration. She retired in 1976 from the Army Materiel Command.
She was a member of Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington. She had served as birthday secretary of its Ever-ready church school class and had been a member of the church's Gideon Circle and senior citizens club.
During World War II, Miss Alexander did volunteer work in the Washington area for the United Service Organizations (USO).
She leaves no immediate survivors.