Pha Terrell was mostly known for being the male singer with Andy Kirk's Clouds Of Joy from 1934 through the fall of 1940 (and, with the usual complications, a bit beyond). While Kirk's band had been popular in the Midwest, it was their 1936 recording of "Until The Real Thing Comes Along", led by Pha Terrell, that elevated the band to stardom. Pha was not only a singer with the band, but its on-stage director and leader, Kirk preferring to sit with the other musicians and play the sax and tuba.
You may be asking yourselves "so he was a band singer; how important was he?" Well, consider this: on August 11, 1939 Billie Holiday spent a week at the Apollo Theater; two weeks later, the Kirk band appeared there. The September 9, 1939 Pittsburgh Courier talked about the shows:
At the Apollo, Miss Holliday [sic] did eight encores at the Saturday midnight performance, a mark which has been surpassed by only one individual - Pha Terrell, who took down twelve curtain calls.
Seems to me, anyone who took more curtain calls than Billie Holiday is worthy of your interest.
NOTE: This one will be a bit different. As I said, the Clouds Of Joy were very popular and made hundreds of appearances during the time Pha was with them. Since many others have written about Andy Kirk, I'm not going to try to document the band in any detail. Also, other than a couple of AFRS Jubilee tracks (backed by Louis Jordan's band), Pha only recorded for Decca, with the Clouds Of Joy. Since all the Decca labels look pretty much the same, I'll only show "Until The Real Thing Comes Along"; the one which propelled both Kirk and Terrell into stardom.
A NOTE ON RELEASE DATES: Since few releases in the thirties were reviewed in Billboard, I did the best I could with dating them. Most are probably pretty close, but feel free to consider them wild guesses.
Pha [pronounced "Fay"] Elmer Terrell was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on May 25, 1910 to Alonzo Terrell (from Nashville, Tennessee) and Ida Mae Mitchell (from Humansville, Missouri). While the 1915 Kansas City Directory shows both Alonzo and Ida Terrell at the same address, their marriage certificate is clearly dated December 31, 1917.
NOTE: His name wasn't Elmer Pha Terrell, which you'll find in many places, but Pha Elmer Terrell. That's the way he signed it on his 1929 marriage certificate and on his WW2 draft registration.
Since I can't find the family at all in the 1920 or 1930 censuses, I don't know if Pha had any siblings. My best guess is that he didn't.
Father Alonzo made the news on April 17, 1920 (Kansas City Sun): "Mr. Alonzo Terrell, a member of John Lang Lodge, A. F. & A. M., No. 103 and Consolation Order of the Busy Bee, is sick at his residence, 3101 East 16th." Not terribly interesting, is it? (I also don't understand most of it.)
The first mention of Pha Terrell wasn't (unfortunately) as an entertainer. The February 10, 1927 Kansas City Times had this, under the heading of "Negro Boy Bandits Sentenced":
Three 16-year-old negro boys were sentenced yesterday by Judge E. E. Porterfield of the juvenile court to four years each in the reform school at Boonville [Missouri].
They confessed to several hold-ups, the last being January 4, a $25 robbery from Joe Rose, a grocer at 2300 Forest Avenue, and $2 from a customer who was in the store.
The boys' names and addresses were given as David Stephenson ...; Pha Terrell, 1717 Agnes Avenue; and Edward Jones .... [When Pha registered for the draft in October 1940, his mother was still living at that address.]
However, Pha didn't serve the full four years. A bit more than two and a half years later, on November 16, 1929, Pha E. Terrell married Anna Mae Mattingly. Since he was younger than she, he inflated his age to 22 (indicating a 1907 birth year).
But it wasn't a successful marriage. By the time of the 1930 census (taken in April), Anna Mae said she was married (although Pha was nowhere in sight). She married again in October 1932, although I can't find a divorce record from Pha.
Not only wasn't Pha in the 1920 and 1930 censuses, he isn't listed in the Kansas City directories for 1931, 1933, 1939, and 1941, although his parents are in all of them. He managed to make it to the 1930 book (as "Elmer Terrell"), at the same address as wife Anna Mae Terrell. This is the only time he ever seemed to appear as "Elmer" and not "Pha" or "Pha Elmer".
At some point, Pha began to hang out in the many Kansas City nightclubs, singing, dancing, and acting as an emcee. Along the way, probably in early 1934, he was discovered by bandleader Andy Kirk. Sadly, other than the 1927 report of his crime spree, there's no mention of Pha in any newspaper prior to 1934. Kirk later said that "he was just around twenty-one then". If true, which I tend to doubt, that would make his hiring in 1931 or 1932, but again, there's nothing in the papers about it.
As I said, much has been written about Andy Kirk, so I'll just sum it up:
Andy Kirk was originally from Kentucky, but by the time he registered for the draft in World War I, he was living in Denver. Kirk could play the tuba, as well as the saxophone, flute, and bass. Eventually, he joined Terrence Holder's Dark Clouds Of Joy, which relocated to Oklahoma City. In 1928, after Holder had absconded with the band's payroll, Kirk assumed control of the Dark Clouds Of Joy and dropped the "Dark" from its name. After having seen them in Oklahoma City, bandleader George E. Lee (brother of singer Julia Lee) invited the band to Kansas City, where they performed at the Pla-Mor in 1929; they ended up moving there.
1933 ads for Kirk didn't mention anyone else in the troupe, but several of the ones from 1934 did:
April 1 (Lake Robbins, Iowa) - Mary Williams, blues singer, 3 Shades Of Song
April 2 (Clear Lake, Iowa) - Mary Williams, blues singer, 3 Shades Of Song, Benny Thigpen, Benny Webster
May 8 (Stewart, Iowa) - Mary Williams, 3 Shades Of Song
May 18 (Waterloo, Iowa) - Mary Williams, 3 Shades Of Song, Benny Thigpen
June 2 (Bucyrus, Ohio) - same
July 1-7 (St. Louis, Missouri) - same
July 28-31 (Albuquerque, New Mexico) - Pha Terrell, 3 Shades Of Song, Franklin Sisters (dancers), 3 Mars (dancers), Josephine Beck (torch singer).
It's possible that Pha was part of the 3 Shades Of Song, but they were never named and were still being advertised long after his name appeared separately. My feeling is that Kirk hired Pha because he saw someone who was not only a singer, but who had the personality to front the band, since Kirk was more comfortable being one of the musicians.
So, on July 28, 1934, Pha is first mentioned with the band when they played the KiMo in Albuquerque. The ad called him "Personality Plus".
Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds Of Joy posed on stage for a 1934 photo, which showed Pha Terrell with a baton and Andy Kirk sitting next to a tuba. Since band members tend to come and go rapidly, I won't bother trying to document their ranks.
On November 10-11, 1934, the Kirk band played the East Side Sunset Musicians Club in Kansas City. "Fay Terrell" was mentioned in the ad as being "torch singer, now director of the 12 CLOUDS OF JOY".
In early August, 1935, the band appeared at the Fairyland Park (Kansas City) dance hall. Mentioned in the August 4 Kansas City Star blurb were star pianist Mary [Lou] Williams, Pha Terrell, and drummer Ben Thigpen (who did the vocals on uptempo tunes).
When they played Blossom Heath in Oklahoma City in mid-October 1935, the October 20 Oklahoma News picked out Ben Phigpen [sic] ("eccentric drummer"), Mary Williams ("nationally known piano player"), and Pha Terrell ("director and singer").
In early January 1936, the band played a week at the Rainbow Ballroom in Denver. With one exception (the January 18 Winter Dance of the Boosters Club at the Colorado State College Of Education in Greeley, Colorado, some 60 miles north of Denver), there were no other performances listed until January 31, when they were in Lincoln, Nebraska. The next paragraph explains why this could be important.
As long as Pha was in Denver, why not get married again? On January 21, 1936 he ("Terrill, Pha") wed 17-year-old Dorothy Elizabeth Caldwell; he didn't give his age on the document. Did she then travel with the band? Did he just leave her there? The band never seems to have played Denver again, but she reported her name as "Dorothy Caldwell Terrell" to Social Security in November 1938. Whatever happened, it was another failed marriage: in late 1941, Dorothy married again.
The Kirk band had recorded for Brunswick before Pha joined them, now, in early 1936, they got a contract with Decca. On their way to New York to record, they stopped off for an engagement at the Club Astoria in Baltimore. Note that all Decca recording would be done in New York.
At their first Decca session (March 11, 1936), the Kirk orchestra recorded what would be their biggest hit "Until The Real Thing Comes Along". Well, almost. This version (master 60887) had the song's original lyrics and was never released on Decca at all, although it was issued on Columbia in Europe.
The song itself went back to 1931, when "Till The Real Thing Comes Along" was introduced by Ethel Waters in the Lew Leslie revue Rhapsody In Black. The original song was written by Alberta Nichols (music) and her husband Mann Holiner (lyrics).
This Decca version seems to have been the first recording ever of the song and many of the lyrics are strange to me. Jack Kapp, head of Decca, didn't like those lyrics and hired Saul Chaplin and Sammy Cahn to work their magic on the song. (They also changed "Till" to "Until".) There's a fifth name on the copyright - Lawrence E. Freeman, saxophonist with the 3 Chocolate Drops, but I don't know what he actually contributed.
The Clouds Of Joy tried it again on April 2, this time with the new lyrics (master 60972). For the most part, these are the lyrics that we're familiar with. Pha also recorded "Blue Illusion" and "Cloudy" at that session.
"Blue Illusion" became Pha's first release, around May of 1936. (Note that I won't mention the flip sides of records if Pha isn't singing on them; you'll find those titles in the discography. Clouds Of Joy records on which Pha doesn't sing on either side won't be listed at all. I also won't mention any recording sessions on which Pha doesn't sing.) Most of the arrangements were done by the band's pianist, Mary Lou Williams.
By this time, there were some new members with the band. Two of note were saxophonist Dick Wilson and trombonist Henry Wells, who also sang.
And then, the biggie. Around June 1936, Decca released Pha's re-done "Until The Real Thing Comes Along". I don't know how to measure it, but it was a hit, the one that really put the Clouds Of Joy on the map. At this time, Billboard ran a column (kind of weekly, although I can't find it in many editions) called "Ten Best Records For Week Ended ...". It's not exactly a chart, since each of the major companies (Bluebird, Brunswick, Decca, Victor, and Vocalion) listed their 10 best-selling records for that week. For September 21, Decca showed "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" as their best-selling record. However, it was Jan Garber's version; Andy Kirk's was number two. Victor showed Fats Waller's version to be their second best seller. Take it as gospel: Kirk had a hit and advertised that fact for years to come.
The October 3, 1936 Indianapolis Recorder had a large article about Kirk and the song titled "Until Real Thing Comes Along" Puts Kirk In Lights. (Keep in mind it was written by a press agent, who invented a fictitious origin for the song.)
For several years just on the verge of breaking into the genuine big time, Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds Of Joy seem at last well on the road to international fame. They made the popular song hit, "Until The Real Thing Comes Along", and this hit has returned equal value by making Andy Kirk.
People in the mid-West, notably Kansans, Oklahomans, Missourians and Nebraskans, could have told you all along that Andy Kirk has one of the best bands in the world. But the rest of the country and particularly the East, has a habit of taking such claims with the proverbial grain of salt.
It was six years ago that this band popped up in New York with a Brunswick recording contract tendered them by a scout who heard their swinging in a Kansas City dance hall. They waxed several titles then scampered home. They caught Gotham [New York] asleep, for a smart manager like Irving Mills could have gobbled them up and made money for all concerned.
Back in the mid-West, they played gigs whenever they could get them and now and then long engagements at some prairie dancing hall or club. They dropped out of sight of eastern master minds. Then, this year, Decca rediscovered the Clouds Of Joy and they returned to New York with a big contract. They have cut platter after platter since then, most of the numbers original compositions.
Andy soon found, however, that he lacked enough songs for his repertoire. Back in Kansas City, was a saxophonist named Lawrence E. Freeman, who once played with Kirk [true; Lawrence "Slim" Freeman was there in 1930]. Six years ago. Freeman wrote a tune he didn't think so much of and tossed it in his scrap heap, forgetting all about it. Not many moons ago he ran across the script and played it for Andy. It was "Until The Real Thing Comes Along." After the Twelve Clouds went east Kirk, wrote back to Freeman for the arrangement of his song to help swell the band's repertoire.
It came immediately, but there were no words. That was remedied by the song writing team of Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin. Kirk recorded the completed composition. Discs sold and today many a nickel is spent for the waxing in tavern phonographs. Radio took it over. Other bands began playing it.
This tune has enjoyed a top ranking for several weeks now on the Your Hit Parade. Andy is famous, Freeman will start receiving royalties Oct. 15, and has written two more numbers to be recorded by the Twelve Clouds this fall titled "1776" and "You've Got Me In A Swing". [I can't find these titles among Kirks recordings. I also have to wonder how much Freeman got in royalties, cynic that I am.]
Most of the Kirk arrangements are made by Mary Lou Williams, the only woman pianist now working in a first-class sepia band, who succeeded Alex Hill. Miss Williams is already being classed by some critics as the greatest woman jazz pianist in the world. [As much as I distrust press agents quoting unnamed critics, this assessment was pretty accurate.] For proof, they point to such piano solos on wax as "Night Life," "Clean Pickin'," and "Swingin' For Joy." This most attractive girl combines a Hines-like touch with her own originality. [That's a reference to Earl Hines.]
The personnel of Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds Of Joy, as we have it, is John Harrington, alto sax and clarinet; Richard Wilson, tenor sax; John Williams [Mary Lou's husband], alto sax; Andy Kirk, baritone sax and director; Harry Lawson, first trumpet; Paul King, second trumpet; Earl Thompson, third trumpet. Theodore Donnelly, trombone; Mary Lou Williams, piano; Ted Brinson, guitar [who'd end up with a Los Angeles recording studio at which the Penguins recorded]; Booker Collins, bass; Ben Thigpen, drums-vocals; and Pha Terrell, vocals.
Swing music authorities credit the band with having an even more terrific impact in real life than on records. Paleface enthusiasts say it has "more of the indelible stamp of the primitive in its playing than any other colored orchestra in existence, not excluding Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway." [Note the lame device of using the plural ("enthusiasts") and then attributing the identical long quote to each of them.]
Andy Kirk and his band will bear watching. They have the stuff, and it is fervently hoped they make the best of the prestige afforded by their success with "Until The Real Thing Comes Along."
Kirk himself wanted to do more jazz tunes, but with the success of "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" and the popularity of Pha Terrell, the money was too good to let the ballads go.
Now Pha's name is featured prominently in Kirk ads. No longer just "leader", "singer", or "master of ceremonies", now (for example), it's "Hear Pha Terrell Sing 'When The Real Thing Comes Along'." (Well, at least they got his name correct.) One of the first mentions of Pha and the song was when they played the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit on October 5.
The October 10, 1936 Pittsburgh Courier had a photo of the band (in which no one could be made out), with a huge photo of Pha overlaying it. The caption read:
Pictured above is one of the most outstanding musical organizations and the year's most famous vocalist. If you haven't guessed it already, it's none other than Pha Terrell (above) and Andy Kirk's famed "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" Orchestra. The orchestra is originally from Kansas City, but Terrell's singing and the band's playing of the song hit which ranks "No. 2" among the musical sensations of the air, has skyrocketed them to prominence. They are touring the mid-west at present with phenomenal record-breaking success, and it's rumored they're headin' for Pittsburgh! What a welcome they'll get here.
The band played the Apollo Theater the week of November 11. Since there was also a revue with a large cast, neither Pha nor Mary Lou Williams was mentioned in the ad, although they were both named in the write-up.
They were back in New York on December 9, 1936 for another recording session. This time, Pha recorded "What Will I Tell My Heart?" and "Dedicated To You". "What Will I Tell My Heart?" was released later that month.
The band was at the Savoy in Pittsburgh on December 25. The December 26 Pittsburgh Courier said:
Hundreds of other vocalists have tried to imitate the singing of "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" as done by Pha Terrell. Many of them have done well, but only Pha Terrell, as he originally sang the song that has thrilled millions, and as he still sings it, has been able to "send 'em." [Boy, I'd give anything to be able to write like that.]
Almost overnight, Terrell vaulted to fame with the melody that has rocked the nation. Thousands of copies of the song have been sold and for several weeks it remained the nation's favorite melody, maintaining first, second and third place among the "ten hits of the nation" longer than any other song has done.
[Actually, the top tunes of 1936, as featured on Your Hit Parade, were "Did I Remember?" and "The Way You Look Tonight". They were on for 16 and 14 weeks, respectively, as opposed to 11 weeks for "Until The Real Thing Comes Along", which never got higher than #2.]
After Pittsburgh, they toured West Virginia.
The band was back in New York on February 15, 1937 for some more recording. Pha led "Skies Are Blue" and "Downstream". Also that month, Decca released "Dedicated To You".
Andy Kirk ("The Sultan Of Syncopation") played the Pickwick Club in Birmingham, Alabama on March 6. The blurb in the March 4 Birmingham News is significant in that it's the first time Pha Terrell is referred to as "The Voice Of Romance".
At the April 17, 1937 Decca recording session, Pha did four numbers: "Worried Over You", "Foolin' Myself ", "I'm Glad For Your Sake (But I'm Sorry For Mine)", and "I'll Get Along Somehow". Also that month, Decca issued "Cloudy", with "Foolin' Myself" following in May. On May 6, they were at the Shrine Mosque in Atlanta.
An interesting gig: the May 16 Birmingham News reported that the Clouds Of Joy would be at the local Cotton Club:
Andy Kirk and his 14 Clouds Of Joy will be at the Cotton Club Wednesday [May 19]. This is amateur hour night at the club and the famous swing band will play the accompaniments to the local contestants for cash prizes, sponsored by the Cotton Club and WSGN. With Andy Kirk and his band are Mary Lou Williams, considered America's greatest woman jazz piano player, and Pha Terrell, whose arrangement of "What'll I Tell My Heart," [sic] an Andy Kirk song, has gone into its forty-five thousandth record sale.
On June 10, the band was at the Bay Shore Pavilion in Newport News, Virginia. That same month, Decca issued "Worried Over You". In July, it was "Skies Are Blue", backed with "I'll Get Along Somehow".
Back to New York for some more recording. On July 26, 1937, Pha did "In My Wildest Dreams", "Better Luck Next Time", and "With Love In My Heart". The next day, he waxed "What's Mine Is Yours", "The Key To My Heart", and "I Went To A Gypsy". (Note that the latter song is seen, incorrectly, as "I Want To Be A Gypsy".)
August saw the release of "Better Luck Next Time", coupled with "I Went To A Gypsy". "With Love In My Heart" was the September entry.
By the time the band broadcast from the Grand Terrace Cafe in Chicago on August 26, baritone George Dewey Washington had been added to the mix. At least that's what the blurb in the August 28 Indianapolis Recorder said; however, Washington was never again mentioned as being part of the unit. The Grand Terrace lineup consisted of Ada Brown, Mae Diggs (whom you'd probably know better as leader of Daisy Mae & Her Hep Cats), Son & Sonny ("Son" [Roland James] was the brother of Ida James), Billy Armstrong, and singer Dorothy Derrick.
Another record release was October's "Downstream", backed with "I'm Glad For Your Sake (But I'm Sorry For Mine)".
The week of November 12, 1937 found them back at the Apollo Theater. The ad (which mentioned Mary Lou and Pha), didn't call them the Clouds Of Joy, but "Andy Kirk And His Sensational Band". Also on the bill was Ann[e] Wiggins Brown, who'd been the original "Bess" in "Porgy And Bess".
They were back in the Decca studios on December 13, when Pha recorded "Lover, Come Back To Me" and "Poor Butterfly". Sometime that month, Decca issued "In My Wildest Dreams".
On December 27, they made a return visit to Pittsburgh's Savoy Ballroom. The write-up in the December 25 Pittsburgh Courier said the band would feature "... Pha Terrell, whose vocalizing of the songs Kirk has recorded has placed him on top of the pile". However, the blurb mostly talked about Mary Lou Williams.
An early 1938 appearance was at the Trianon in Ft. Lauderdale on January 29. Then, it was back to New York, where Pha recorded another couple of songs on February 8: "I Surrender Dear" and "It Must Be True (You Are Mine All Mine)". "I Surrender Dear" had been Bing Crosby's first hit back in 1931.
After this, it was out to the Cotton Club in Dayton, Ohio, where the band appeared on February 18. The ad had photos of Andy, Mary Lou, and Pha, and the accompanying blurb also mentioned "the famous sax player Dick Wilson".
On February 22, the band played the Colonnade Ballroom, in Washington, DC. A little blurb in the February 26, Washington Afro-American said that the Clouds Of Joy were going to Chicago to play six weeks at the Grand Terrace, replacing Louis Armstrong.
In March, Decca issued "Lover, Come Back To Me!", coupled with "Poor Butterfly". In May, it was "The Key To My Heart".
The May 12, 1938 Weekly Schuyler (Schuyler, Nebraska) had a photo of Pha with this blurb:
Mary Lou Williams, the "Sweetheart Of The Ivories," and Pha Terrell, the "Voice Of Romance," are continuing along in a wave of popularity and Mary Lou is now considered the foremost femme "swing" pianist in the world. [A May 15 ad for the Turnpike in Lincoln, Nebraska noted that Mary Lou Williams was the "arranger for Benny Goodman" (as she also was for Duke Ellington, as well as Kirk).]
When the Clouds Of Joy played Jackson, Tennessee, the Jackson Sun told us that "Andy Kirk, the 'Sultan Of Syncopation,' will exhibit one of the largest libraries of dance music in the world when he brings his orchestra to the Oriental Palace, June 8." The June 19 Jackson Sun added: "Another big feature of the Andy Kirk orchestra, and one that will surely delight all listeners, is Pha Terrell, the golden voiced singer. Pha Terrell has a very pleasing delivery and his interpretation of romantic lyrics and sweet melodies has placed him among the most popular singers in orkdom."
Also in June, Decca issued "It Must Be True (You Are Mine - All Mine)", coupled with "What's Mine Is Yours". Around July, Decca released "I Surrender Dear".
On July 20, the band appeared at Casino Park in Fort Worth, Texas
They were back in New York in September 1938 for some more recording. On September 9, Pha did "Bless You, My Dear" and "How Can We Be Wrong?". On September 12 he waxed "I Won't Tell A Soul (I Love You)", "What Would People Say?" and "How Much Do You Mean To Me?".
As long as they were in New York, they played the Apollo Theater the week of September 23. With them at this time was singer June Richmond, who'd been with Jimmy Dorsey's Orchestra. (Not yet a part of the Clouds Of Joy, she'd join them the following year.) Also on the bill were Moke & Poke, the 5 Shades Of Rhythm, Diane & Delcampo, Pigmeat, and Jimmy Baskett.
On October 9, they were at the Swing Club Ballroom in the Bronx. Also in October, Decca released three of Pha's songs: "How Can We Be Wrong?", backed with "How Much Do You Mean To Me?"; and "I Won't Tell A Soul (I Love You)".
And, some more recording. On October 24, 1938, Pha waxed "Breeze", "Ghost Of Love", and "What A Life (Trying To Live Without You)". The next day, he did "Sittin' Around And Dreamin'".
Then, it was out to Detroit, where the band appeared at the Masonic Temple on November 5. They alternated with Orrin Tucker's band, featuring the Bailey Sisters and Bonnie Baker.
In November, Decca issued "Bless You My Dear", followed by "Ghost Of Love" in December.
Back to the Decca studios on December 5, 1938, where Pha would record "Honey" (which would be recorded by the Ravens eight years later), "September In The Rain", and "Clouds". The next day, he waxed "Goodbye", "But It Didn't Mean A Thing", and "(I Don't Believe It But) Say It Again".
After that, it was the Nixon Grand in Philadelphia on December 9. They were part of a whole show with 60 performers, including Chuck & Chuckles, Jackie (the future "Moms") Mabley, Jimmy Baskett, and many others.
Billboard reviewed "I Won't Tell A Soul" in their December 24, 1938 edition: "A ballad admirably fashioned for crying into one's beer that's meeting with pretty fair acclaim from the populace at large. Andy Kirk has a disc that is especially popular, with Tommy Dorsey following closely behind with another favorite." Note that they were reviewing the song itself, not a particular version.
On December 25, the band played the Sunset Casino in Atlanta.
1939 started with the release of "Breeze (Blow My Baby Back To Me)", paired with "Sittin' Around And Dreamin'".
Another trip to the Apollo Theater, this time the week of February 10, 1939. They shared the stage with Moke & Poke, Pigmeat Markham, and Wilton Crawley.
Also in February, Decca released "What Would People Say", coupled with "But It Didn't Mean A Thing". The following month, it was "Honey".
Back to the studios: on March 16, 1939, Pha waxed "You Set Me On Fire" and "(I Guess) I'll Never Learn". A week later (March 23), it was "S'posin'", "I'll Never Fail You", and "Why Don't I Get Wise To Myself?".
Andy Kirk's Clouds Of Joy played the Graystone, in Detroit, on April 10. The next night found them at the Regent Ballroom in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Then, it was the New Elms Ballroom in Youngstown, Ohio on April 12.
Also in April, Decca released two Clouds Of Joy records featuring Pha Terrell: "You Set Me On Fire" and "I'll Never Fail You".
On May 20, they were at the Riviera Theater in West Point, Georgia. May 23 found them at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta for a society dance. Who were "they"?. The May 24 Atlanta Constitution gave us the facts: "Andy Kirk and his colored band played for dancing, and between dances presented a floor show featuring the band's stars, June Redman and Fay Terrell." Oh, well; what's that quote about fame being fleeting?
When they played the Oriental Palace in Jackson, Tennessee on June 8, the Jackson Sun had a small article titled "Andy Kirk 'At Home' On Four Instruments":
Andy Kirk, who brings his "Clouds Of Joy" orchestra to the Oriental Palace Thursday night, is equally adept at playing the baritone sax, the tuba, flute and string bass.
However, he plays mostly baritone sax in his orchestra and occasionally directs, allowing his vocalist, Pha Terrell, to conduct the orchestra throughout the greater portion of his dance engagements.
Decca put out "(I Guess) I'll Never Learn", paired with "S'posin'" in June.
Here's an unusual one. The Knoxville (Tennessee) Journal of June 11, 1939 talked about the upcoming show at Hodgson's Auditorium on June 13. With the article, the paper printed the entire program:
The band would play: "Blue Illusion", "The Lady Who Swings The Band", "In The Groove", and "Christopher Columbus".
Pha Terrell would sing: "I'll Get Along Somehow", "What Will I Tell My Heart", and, of course, "Until The Real Thing Comes Along".
Newly-added June Richmond ("direct from Cab Calloway's Cotton Club in New York") would sing: "Three Little Fishes", "Where Oh Where", "Angels With Dirty Faces", and "Dark Town Strutters' Ball".
Guitarist Floyd Smith would be featured on: "Honeysuckle Rose", "Guitar Blues", and "I'm In Love".
Pianist Mary Lou Williams would lead the band on: "Breeze", "I'se A Muggin'", "You Set Me On Fire", and "Close To Five".
It's a bit confusing. "Blue Illusion" had been Pha's debut recording. Was it being done here as an instrumental? How about "Breeze" and "You Set Me On Fire"? They both had Pha's vocals in the released versions; did he sing them here?
Remember back when Pha was sentenced to Reform School? Well, it looks like some of his tendencies hadn't been fully quashed. The June 17, 1939 Pittsburgh Courier reported:
LOUISVILLE, Ky, June 15 - Pha Terrell, featured vocalist with Andy Kirk, was found guilty of a charge amended for malicious striking and fined $10 in city court last week. Terrell allegedly forcibly tossed a cab driver from his (Terrell's) hotel room when trouble arose over a card game.
The July 1, 1939 Billboard supposedly reviewed the Kirk band's appearance at the Rhythm Night Club in Natchez, Mississippi (no date given), however, this had to have been written by a press agent:
Playing a race dance here, Kirk gave promoter Mann Davis a grand gate and had every dancer in the crowded club yelling "Man, whatta band!" And the musical performance justified popular opinion. Style is mostly a smooth swing, but the band can even play sweet tunes out of this world. Handling a variety of tunes, playing all requests of dancers, band sold solid on every score.
Kirk, always obliging and courteous, makes a personable front. Instrumentation is five brass, four sax and four rhythm, men making a neat appearance in light blue tuxes. Outstanding is Mary Lou Williams, as famous for her socko stomp compos [compositions] as for her ivory poundings; Floyd Smith, for tuneful guitar pickings, and Dick Wilson, tenor sax scorcher. Vocal force is just as forte, with Pha Terrell's tenor pipes on the pash ballads ever ringing true; June Richmond (formerly with Jimmy Dorsey and Cab Calloway) for potent scat and shouting songs, and Henry Wells, out of the trombone section, who sells the pop wordage with ease. [Wells is doing the non-romantic and up-tempo songs.]
It's a happy combination which has definitely found itself and is ready to take its place along with Calloway, Basie and the other "greats" produced by Kansas City.
Also in July, Decca released "Clouds", backed with "Goodbye".
On July 18, they were at the Castle Ballroom in St. Louis. The ad claimed that Floyd Smith was "St. Louis' Own". From there, it was Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio on July 21. Mentioned in the ad were June Richmond, Mary Lou Williams, Pha Terrell, Dick Wilson, and Floyd Smith.
On August 20, 1939, they appeared at the Lake Compounce Ballroom (Bristol, Connecticut). Then, it was back to the Apollo Theater the week of August 25. One of their catchphrases at this time was the "Seven Star Band": Andy Kirk, June Richmond, Mary Lou Williams, Pha Terrell, Floyd Smith [guitar], Henry Wells [trombone and vocals], and Dick Wilson [sax]. Also on the bill was Mae Diggs (the future Daisy Mae, of Hep Cats fame).
The 7-star band was the subject of a September ad placed by their manager: Joe Glaser, of Consolidated Attractions.
On September 2-3, the band played Dyke's Stockade in Washington, DC. An ad and blurb touted their singer, "June Raymond". Then, the Kirk Band, along with Al Cooper & the Savoy Sultans, appeared at a Labor Day dance at the Westchester County Center (White Plains, New York) on September 4.
Also in September (when else?), Decca issued "September In The Rain", coupled with "What A Life (Trying To Live Without You)".
Still in the New York area, the Big Time: they spent a week at Loew's State Theater, in Manhattan, beginning on September 28, 1939. On the big screen, you could see that new movie staring Toto The Dog: "The Wizard Of Oz". Also appearing were the Top Hatters (a skating team), singer Gus Van, and a comedic dance act consisting of Tanglefoot, Diana Lure, and Pinky Lee (yes, that Pinky Lee). The review in the October 10, 1939 Billboard said: "A touch of schmaltz was injected for Pha Terrell's vocals, For You and To You. Terrell is a straight singer with no frills, but ork's dynamic vocalist is June Richmond, ample femme, who hoofs, mugs and shouts such killers as Jim Jam Jumping Jive." [That's how an actual Billboard-written review reads.] Also on the bill was one-legged dancer Stanley "Big Time Crip" Holmes, who danced to the Kirk song of the same name (which had a band vocal dedicated to him). Note that he's not Henry "Crip" Heard, the one-legged, one-armed dancer of the 1940s.
Right after that, it was Harlem's Renaissance Casino (138th Street and 7th Avenue) on October 8. This was followed by the Golden Gate Ballroom, also in Harlem. The November 4 Pittsburgh Courier let us know that "... for those who like to hear their favorite bands over the airways comes the welcome news that Andy and all of his gang are on the air three nights weekly through the facilities of the Mutual Broadcasting System." (WOR from 11:15 to 11:45.) Kirk was on radio a lot and, I'm sure, Pha sang many songs over the airwaves; however not one of them was ever documented.
And, as long as they were in New York, the Decca studios beckoned. Pha recorded a couple of tunes on November 15, 1939: "I'm Getting Nowhere With You" and "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance".
Also in November, Decca issued "(I Don't Believe It But) Say It Again" (which is somewhat uptempo, unusual for Pha), paired with "Why Don't I Get Wise To Myself".
1940 began with another recording session on January 2, at which Pha did "Love Is The Thing" (which Jimmy Ricks would record in 1952) and "Why Go On Pretending?".
Also in January, Decca issued "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You".
As long as they were in New York, why not play the Apollo? They were there the week of January 5, along with the DaMargo Sisters (a dance team), Spic & Span (tap dancers), and comedians Sandy (Burns), Apus (Montrose Morse), & George (Wiltshire).
On January 12, 1940, Andy Kirk and his Clouds Of Joy ("a red hot sizzling ensemble of merry mad music makers") started a week at Washington, DC's Howard Theater. The ad also emphasized June Richmond ("Former star swingstress with Tommy Dorsey and Cab Calloway - fresh from sensational triumphs at the famous Cotton Club"), Mary Lou Williams ("America's sweetheart of the ivories"), and Pha Terrell ("the voice of romance"). A blurb in the January 13 Washington Afro-American said that "Until The Real Thing Comes Along", their big hit record, had sold more than 75,000 copies. I'm not used to having realistic numbers quoted; there are usually flights of fancy about sales in the millions.
The January 20 Detroit Tribune labeled Pha Terrell the "Whispering Genius".
On January 24, they were at the Arcadia Ballroom (Broadway and 53rd Street) for a week. Then, they opened at the Cotton Club in Dayton, Ohio on February 2, but I don't know how long they were there.
Decca released "I'm Getting Nowhere With You" in February
They were at the S.I.N.U. New Gymnasium (Carbondale, Illinois) on March 22 ("Positively No Smoking On The Dance Floor"). "Five dollars divided among the three best dance couples" (although five dollars isn't evenly divisible by three - oh, well, I'll let them sort it out).
March 1940's Decca entry was "Love Is The Thing".
Starting April 5, 1940, the band spent a week at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC. The March 30 Pittsburgh Courier said "The band's dance tour, which it is closing in Pittsburgh on April 3, has proven the most sensational it has ever had."
On April 5, the band put in another week at DC's Howard Theater ("because you wanted him back" said the ad).
In the 1940 census, "Phay" Terrell was single, living with his parents in Kansas City, and called an "orchestra musician", although I'm not aware of any instrument he played.
In April, Decca released "Why Go On Pretending?".
On April 13 and 14, the band returned to Harlem's Golden Gate Ballroom. May 1 found them at New York's Cotton Club. The blurb in the April 13, 1940 Pittsburgh Courier said:
Andy Kirk has recently returned from a tour in which he played to a record crowd of 6,000 at Chicago's Savoy Ballroom and also to a capacity crowd at Pittsburgh's newest dance hall, Club Mirador, in Homestead. The Steel City-ites remodeled the old Club Mirador so that it would hold double the number of dancers for the affairs, but still it was packed.
A return trip to the Apollo Theater the week of June 28, 1940 found the band sharing the stage with comedians Johnny Vigal and John Mason (possibly doing a version of his "Open The Door, Richard" skit), Flashe & Sunda (dancers), and the Novelle Trio (harmonica wizards).
Back in New York; back to the Decca studios. On July 8, 1940, Pha waxed "Now I Lay Me Down To Dream" and "There Is No Greater Love". The latter song would eventually be done by Johnny Moore's 3 Blazers, the Caldwells, Bull Moose Jackson, Chris Powell & the Blue Flames, Al Hibbler, the Embers, and even the Wanderers.
Then it was off to the Oriental Theater in Chicago, where they shared the stage with Buck & Bubbles, Stepin Fetchit, Anise & Allen, and (always my favorites) "many others". After that, it was the Coliseum in Dayton, Ohio on July 20. And, once again, a week at the Loew's State Theater in Midtown Manhattan starting July 25. Others on that show were Dixie Dunbar and Bert Wheeler (who'd been part of the movie comedy team of Wheeler and [Robert] Woolsey).
August's Decca release was "Now I Lay Me Down To Dream".
August 13 found them at Athletic Park in Richmond, Indiana for both afternoon and evening shows. According to the Richmond Palladium-Item of August 5, they were "described by Walter Winchell as 'the band that does not give you cauliflower ears'...." I guess you take compliments any way they come.
On September 7, they were at Blossom Heath in Oklahoma City. Also in September, Decca released "There Is No Greater Love".
But then, the Evansville (Indiana) Argus of September 27, 1940 lamented: "Pha Terrell is not singing with Andy Kirk, believe it or not ... he is supposed to have gotten the swell head." Why did he leave? A possible answer will be revealed in due course. There's no exact date, but it looks like they parted ways in late August 1940. However, you know by now that nothing is ever that simple.
Finally, an actual Billboard review. The September 28 edition reviewed "There Is No Greater Love": "Pha Terrell has aided considerably with his vocal work on Kirk disks in making them exceedingly worthwhile and his performance on the old Isham Jones ballad on the first side is among his best."
There was an article in the September 28 Pittsburgh Courier that talked about an upcoming Andy Kirk show at the New York Club (Jacksonville, Florida) on October 15:
Andy Kirk, who butted around on the edge of the "name" circle for years before finally breaking through, owes his success to an idea he had about bands years and years ago - in fact it was two ideas.
One was for a smooth rhythm section, built on close harmony - but the one he finally put into effect and which paid off richly in dividends was the one which makes his attraction one of the greatest of its kind in the country today. That idea was "Names and more names."
And so, today, when one thinks of Andy Kirk, one thinks of the finest in entertainment value. For instance - the names of Mary Lou Williams, the world's greatest woman swing pianist, and Pha Terrell, golden-voiced tenor, is [sic] enough to make any band.
But Kirk reached out, added the names of the sensational June Richmond, the spectacular electric guitar playing Floyd Smith, and Dick Wilson, tenor saxophonist, to round out an all-star combo which has no superior in the business today.
That's the aggregation that will appear hear at the New York Club on Oct. 15. The spot itself is one of the finest in this city, and a capacity crowd is anticipated.
This was probably a press release that had been sent out prior to Pha quitting the band. So was the one advertising their appearance at the Masonic Temple in Birmingham on October 16.
The reason I'm sure of that is because, when Pha filled out his World War 2 draft registration on October 16, 1940 (the national holiday on which all males between 21 and 35 had to register), he gave his employer as "Self". For all you statisticians, he was 5'9", 165 pounds, with "Tattoo marks: left arm, a dagger; right arm, two hearts". The rule said that, if you weren't able to register locally that day, you had to go to the registration board nearest to where you were. His initial registration, therefore, took place in Clay, West Virginia, which is so small (491 people in 2010) that he couldn't have been appearing there. I suppose he was passing through on his way to some engagement. The West Virginia office then forwarded his registration to the Manhattan board near where he "lived" - the address he gave was for the Dewey Square Hotel on West 117 Street.
While a blurb for a December 15 performance by the Kirk band at the Colonial In Detroit still says he's with them, a December Joe Glaser ad for the Clouds Of Joy when they were at the Regal Theater in Chicago (they'd started there on December 6), omits his name. Now, there's trombonist Henry Wells "The Real Thrill In Heart Singers".
By late December, Pha Terrell was appearing at Chicago's Club DeLisa on his own. Also on the bill were comic Billy Mitchell and the Red Saunders band.
The January 4, 1941 Pittsburgh Courier mentioned the show: "Pha Terrell has come out of hibernation here [Chicago] and is appearing nightly as a part of the floor show at the Club DeLisa. Former romantic vocalist with Andy Kirk's band, Terrell and the band leader came to the parting of ways recently....."
However, it wasn't that simple. For a while, he was in and out of the Clouds Of Joy. For example, his name was mentioned as being with the band when they played Tune Town (St. Louis) on January 7, the Rainbow (Salt Lake City) on March 4, and the Manhattan Casino (St. Petersburg, Florida) on April 9. These couldn't have been old press releases sent out before he'd quit the prior August, so he was actually with the band at these venues.
[Note that four of Pha's Decca sides ("Breeze", "September In The Rain", "Poor Butterfly", and "I Surrender Dear") were subsequently re-released as part of a 1950 Coral Records collection called Andy Kirk and His Clouds Of Joy Souvenir Album vol. 1 (see discography).]
But ads for Detroit's Club Zombie on April 12, 19, and 26 have him as a single. Then, his name appears in an Andy Kirk ad for an appearance at the Paradise Amusement Hall in Nashville on May 4. He was back at the Club Zombie, advertised on May 10, 17, 24, and 31. The ads said "... the sensational vocalist who has recently appeared with Andy Kirk...."
The July 6, 1941 Pittsburgh Courier mentioned that Pha was now with saxophonist Frank Derrick's band (the Swing Barons), making a tour of Michigan. However, by late August, Pha was no longer with them either.
Here's an interesting piece from the January 10, 1942 Pittsburgh Courier titled "Wells Leaves Kirk's Band: Pha Terrell Returns":
NEW YORK CITY, Jan. 8 - Henry Wells, singing trombonist who stepped into musical prominence as a member of the original Jimmie Lunceford band several years ago, only to leave an inner circle riff, gave up his most recent spot with Andy Kirk and his orchestra last week.
According to the former star vocalist, whose soft sweet voice was once the desire of romance seekers through the musical world, he departs the Kirk crew with the full consent of the American Federation Of Musicians and will become a member of a large traveling unit which was not named in his formal announcement to the press.
Pha Terrell, former star vocalist with the Andy Kirk crew, who left the band in a huff when Wells became a member several months ago, rejoined the band in Detroit, replacing Wells for the second time.
Again on its original status, Kirk will move into the Grand Terrace Cafe in Chicago for an extended engagement. He will play for the spot's first string sepia show and dancing. His band will be aired nightly via a CBS coast to coast hookup and be given its biggest buildup in years through the combined efforts of Joe Glaser, personal manager, and Music Corporation of America who has recently acquired booking rights on the outfit through a deal with Glaser who also handles Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong and a score of other attractions.
Henry Wells (whose brother, Dicky Wells was also a trombonist) had been with the Clouds Of Joy in March and April, 1936, when Pha cut his first recordings, but left soon after.
The Phoenix Index of February 28, 1942 added:
Pha Terrell, former vocalist with the Andy Kirk band, was re-united with Kirk at the Grand Terrace nite club [Chicago], where the band was playing before they left for Cootie Williams to come. [I suppose someone was paid to write that.]
Terrell was Kirk's most heavily featured vocalist for many years, until early 1940 [sic; should be the fall of 1940], when they parted because of a disagreement. Terrell for a time worked as a single but found the going tough without the Clubs [sic] Of Joy's spirit behind him. Kirk's record sales, meanwhile, slumped slightly.
But, said the Pittsburgh Courier of the same date: "Just about the time the other papers broke the news that Pha Terrell had rejoined Andy Kirk, we get the flash that he was ready to quit again."
And quit he did. This is from the April 18, 1942 Pittsburgh Courier: "Pha Terrell, Andy Kirk's in-and-out vocalist, has switched his singing affections to Clarence Love's ork." They were advertised together at the Crystal Palace Ballroom (Jackson, Mississippi) on April 24. The next night, they were playing for the Spring Prom at Southern University, in Scotlandville, Louisiana. On April 30, they were in Panama City, Florida, but the location wasn't mentioned.
This appeared in the May 9, 1942 Washington Afro-American:
TUSKEGEE, Ala. - Pha Terrell with Clarence Love and his orchestra are expected to acquire new laurels in their careers on the campus of Tuskegee Institute, when they play an exclusive dance engagement here Thursday night [May 14].
Terrell has held the spotlight all during the present tour and his renditions of many of his famous songs, including "Until The Real Thing Comes Along," will be remembered by all.
Both Pha Terrell ("The Voice Of Romance") and Clarence Love & His Lovers ("13 Kings Of Sentimentalism") were managed by the Ferguson Brothers Agency of Indianapolis, Indiana and they, along with Snookum Russell, Irvin C. Miller's Brown Skin Models, and Jesse Price were mentioned in a May 1942 Ferguson ad.
But, shortly after that ad was printed, the Terrell-Love association was over. The June 6 Pittsburgh Courier talked about the Emancipation Celebration Dance in Houston, Texas on June 19. Pha now has his own orchestra, which was booked for the event. The 12-piece band had Jesse Price at the drums, as well as Bernice Brown as the femme vocalist. It said that Pha "was recently temporarily featured with Clarence Love and his orchestra."
What happened to Clarence Love? The August 1, 1942 Indianapolis Record had an article telling us that Clarence had been made the manager of Indianapolis' Chief Club, planning and producing the club's floor shows. Note that, in the 1940s, Clarence was the leader/director of the Darlings Of Rhythm, an all-girl orchestra, some of whose members became Sarah McLawler's Syncoettes.
For a while, some newspapers printed upcoming tour stops for various artists. While it only named the cities, Pha's schedule for June 1942 included Houston, Texas (19), Port Arthur, Texas (20), Beaumont, Texas (22), Lufkin, Texas (23), and Hot Springs, Arkansas (26).
And then, Pha hooked up with another band. This time it was the Original Carolina Cotton Pickers, who'd been around for at least 10 years. They were due to play Chattanooga, Tennessee on August 7, Knoxville, Tennessee on August 8, Cincinnati on August 9, and the Greystone Ballroom in Detroit on August 10,
A strange appearance was the Palace in Newcomerstown, Ohio on August 19. The ad touted Pha Terrell, the Original Carolina Cotton Pickers, and Clarence Love.
Pha and the Cotton Pickers were at the Dragon Ballroom in Mobile, Alabama sometime in late September. On October 18, it was the Armory in Muncie, Indiana.
October 23, 1942 found them at Baltimore's Royal Theater for a week, along with the Deep River Boys and Tip, Tap, & Toe. Then, it was the Howard Theater (Washington, DC) the week of October 30. This time, Pha's epithet was amended to "The Golden Voice Of Romance". He shared the stage with the Deep River Boys, Pearl Bailey, and Willie Bryant. Right after that, on November 8, they played one night at DC's Turner's Arena.
They were back in Washington, DC on December 6, this time playing the Colonnade Ballroom.
Then it gets confusing. The December 12, 1942 Pittsburgh Courier said:
Pha Terrell, famous golden-voiced vocalist, will send his Carolina Cotton Pickers into Kansas City to play an eight week's local engagement at Scott's Theater Restaurant opening today, while Pha takes over the vocal at Henry's Swing Club, Detroit. Terrell goes in for two weeks, opening December 14 and will receive the highest weekly salary ever paid a single artist at the club, so says Joe Helm, manager.... Closing at Detroit, Terrell is booked at the famous Sunset Terrace Club, Indianapolis, with Coleman Hawkins, for the New Year holidays.
Supposedly he was at the Swing Club for most of December 1942, replacing Lil Green and followed by the Cats & The Fiddle. However, although Lil Green appeared in Swing Club ads, neither Pha nor the Cats did.
The Pittsburgh Courier of December 26 said, speaking of the Sunset Terrace: "Opening for a week beginning December 29 is Irvin C. Miller's world famous Brownskin Models .... Pha Terrell is also on the bill...."
The January 30, 1943 Pittsburgh Courier said:
Since opening its new offices under John A. Burton in Hollywood, the Ferguson Brothers Agency plans to parade its attractions on the West Coast, beginning with Pha Terrell around the 15th of March. It has been rumored that Terrell, reportedly already on the coast, is being considered for work under the klieg lights [that is, in the movies]."
But if he was already on the coast, how can we explain the Pittsburgh Courier story in their February 20 edition:
KANSAS CITY, Mo., Feb. 18 - Pha Terrell and his orchestra, after nearly three months at Scotts theatre restaurant here [the band was, not Pha] is all primed for a tour that will take them to Hollywood. It is all virgin territory for this great band, which has recently been billed as Pha Terrell and his Carolina Cotton Pickers, which finished in a lofty position in The Courier's "Most Popular Band" contest. [I thought I understood the meaning of the word "lofty", but the Pickers didn't even finish in the top 10 - Lionel Hampton was #1, with Erskine Hawkins, Cab Calloway, and Tommy Dorsey close behind.]
On March 14, Pha and the Cotton Pickers opened at Sweet's in Oakland, California. On the 12th, they were supposed to have been at the Coconut Grove in Salt Lake City, Utah, but there were supposedly "interrupted train connections" and they didn't make it.
By March 20, Pha and the Pickers had moved down to the Lincoln Theater in Los Angeles for a week. By May 2, they were back at Sweets.
And then, another band left behind. The May 6, 1943 California Eagle reported:
Playing their last coast engagement May 3, the famous Carolina Cotton Pickers started back into the middle west playing Salt Lake City, Denver, Pueblo and a few stops in Texas and Louisiana before opening at one of the finest white clubs in the South at a figure announced at $2000 per week.
Eddie Eugene and Wesley Jones still carry on the vocals of the band.
Ferguson Bros. Agency of Indianapolis, Ind. and their agents state that Pha Terrell will not appear with the band.
The same issue also had this:
The sensational Carolina Cotton Pickers with Wesley Jones and Eddie Eugene are doing big business wherever they play although Pha Terrell, former vocalist, is not with the band. During their engagement here [Denver] promoter Bill Jones reported a crowd estimated at 1500. They played Coconut Grove, Salt Lake City en route and are headed into a one night dance tour in Texas territory.
The Coconut Grove ad, prepared in advance, had Pha as part of the aggregation, but he was no longer with them.
Over the summer of 1943, Pha Terrell, accompanied by Louis Jordan's band, recorded a couple of songs for the AFRS Jubilee series: "My Devotion" and "Until The Real Thing Comes Along". These ended up on disks shipped out to servicemen and played over the Armed Forces Radio network. The former was pressed up in October, the latter in November.
In September, Pha was at Los Angeles' Club Alabam, along with Mabel Scott and the Harlan Leonard band.
On October 30, 1943, Pha's father, Alonzo Terrell, died in Kansas City. Pha may have gone back to KC for a while, since there are no further mentions of him that year.
In early February 1944, Pha opened at the Rhythm Club in Los Angeles. The ad said that he was "introducing Besame Mucho", although that song was already four years old.
When Andy Kirk's band (still with June Richmond) opened a six-week engagement at the Club Plantation (Los Angeles) on February 17, 1944, the opening night crowd contained Nyas Berry (Berry Brothers), Ben Carter, Mantan Moreland, Tyree Glenn, Cab Calloway, the Charioteers, and members of the Woody Herman and Harry James orchestras. Oh, yes, Pha Terrell was there too.
The July 8, 1944 Pittsburgh Courier reported that "Pha Terrell, voice of romance, and the recent rave of California, arrived at LaGuardia airport last Thursday on the first leg of a nation-wide tour, and is set for a series of recordings while here." It must have been one of the most unpublicized tours in history; I can't find a single mention of him again until September. (And, there were no known recordings during this period.)
On September 13, 1944, he opened at Shep's Playhouse in Los Angeles. Note that some of their own ads spell it "Shep's" and some have it as "Shepp's". He was there through November 10, when Herb Jeffries came in.
On June 7, 1945 he autographed an old 1940 photo to VeEssa Spivey, who owned Kansas City's Black Hawk Barbecue. Since "L. A. Calif." was written on the bottom, I believe that she was visiting Los Angeles when the photo was signed.
That's it. Nothing more was written about Pha Terrell until October 14, 1945, when he died. The official cause of death was uremia, brought on by chronic hemorrhagic Bright's Disease (a kidney disease), which, said the death certificate, he'd had for up to two years. He'd been hospitalized since July.
Pha's third wife was Carole Morrisson, about whom I can find out nothing. Carole Morrisson Terrell was mentioned as his wife at the time of his death (and is named on his death certificate). At the time of the April 1940 census, he was single, as he was at the time of his October 1940 draft registration. In the spring of 1943, he relocated to Los Angeles and this is probably where he met her, but there's no marriage record; they could have married anytime in 1943, 1944, or 1945. I can't find a single Carole Morrisson who could have been her, nor was there a subsequent Carole Terrell living in Los Angeles
For a change, several papers ran obituaries. This is from the October 27, 1945 Indianapolis Recorder:
LOS ANGELES - A brilliant life and career was stifled Sunday night [actually two Sundays previously] in the passing of the dapper young man Pha Elmer Terrell, 35, who lived in his own beautiful home in a swanky residential section - just around the corner from Eddie (Rochester) Anderson.
The end came after a year's illness of this distinguished tenor vocalist whose memory will linger in the hearts of millions in his recording "Until The Real Thing Comes Along" in 1936 with Andy Kirk. "If I Had You" and "Now I Lay Me Down To Dream" are others of his popular hits.
Pha Terrell was born in Kansas City, Mo., May 25, 1910, and died at the Cedars of Lebanon hospital, Hollywood. His devoted wife, Carole Morrisson Terrell, was at his bedside and gave his last message to his mother, Mrs. Ida Terrell, of Kansas City. Mrs. Terrell accompanied the body to Kansas City Wednesday night on the City of Los Angeles streamliner express.
Pha Terrell made his last public appearance at Shepp's Playhouse club a few weeks ago along with Eddie Green, Thelma Carpenter, Louise Beavers, Herb Jeffries and others.
The only things I got out of this were confirmation of his wife's name and that he'd been ill for some time. The report of where he lived was unnecessary fluff; I have no idea what "If I Had You" was (not only wasn't it a song recorded by Pha Terrell, it wasn't even recorded by Andy Kirk); and there's not a single Shepp's ad from 1945 that mentions him.
The October 27 Pittsburgh Courier added: "The 35-year-old crooner had re-entered the hospital after being released following two months' confinement. He suffered from high blood pressure and a kidney ailment." Once again, an obituary mentioned his hit "If I Had You". It also incorrectly stated that he'd died from a brain hemorrhage (that's not what his death certificate said).
The final notice was in the November 1, 1945 California Eagle, which said:
Mrs. Anna [sic; should be Ida] Mae Terrell of Kansas City, Mo., mother of the late Pha Elmer Terrell noted vocalist, returned by plane accompanied by the wife of the late singer, Mrs. Carole Morrisson Terrell of W. 35 Drive [sic; should be W. 37th Drive] after attending the funeral.
The junior Mrs. Terrell paid high tribute to the members of the profession and expressed hearty thanks to the many friends of Pha Terrell for the lovely condolences and kind words of sympathy, beautiful flowers she received from Mr. and Mrs. Andy Kirk, Miss Mary Lou Williams, Sam and Dorthea [illegible], Joe Glaser, [rest is illegible].
Just to close the book on the family, mother Ida Mae Terrell passed away in July 1961.
Pha Terrell did an impressive bit of recording in only four years (March 1936 through July 1940). His association with Andy Kirk was mutually beneficial: Pha not only gave Kirk hit songs, but Kirk allowed him to be the nominal front-man for the band. His is an excellent voice and it's a shame that it was silenced at such an early age.
Special thanks to Jay Bruder and Andreas Schmauder.
DB 5004 Until The Real Thing Comes Along (PT) / I'se A Muggin' - 36?
(original March 11, 1936 version; released in the rest of Europe as MC 5004)
DECCA (Only those marked "(PT)" have Pha Terell doing the vocal)
772 Blue Illusion (PT) / Corky - ca 5/36
809 Until The Real Thing Comes Along (PT) / Walkin' And Swingin' - ca 6/36
1085 What Will I tell My Heart? (PT) / The Lady Who Swings the Band - ca 12/36
1146 Dedicated To You (PT) / Fifty-Second Street - ca 2/37
1208 Cloudy (PT) / Puddin' Head Serenade - ca 4/37
1261 Foolin' Myself (PT) / In The Groove - ca 5/37
1303 Worried Over You (PT) / Wednesday Night Hop - ca 6/37
1349 Skies Are Blue (PT) / I'll Get Along Somehow (PT) - ca 7/37
1422 Better Luck Next Time (PT) / I Went To A Gypsy (PT) - ca 8/37
1477 With Love In My Heart (PT) / Why Can't We Do It Again - ca 9/37
1531 Downstream (PT) / I'm Glad For Your Sake (But I'm Sorry For Mine) (PT) - ca 10/37
1579 In My Wildest Dreams (PT) / Mellow Bit Of Rhythm - ca 12/37
1663 Lover, Come Back To Me! (PT) / Poor Butterfly (PT) - ca 3/38
1710 The Key To My Heart (PT) / Little Joe From Chicago - ca 5/38
1827 It Must Be True (You Are Mine - All Mine) (PT) / What's Mine Is Yours (PT) - ca 6/38
1916 I Surrender Dear (PT) / I'll Get By - ca 7/38
2081 How Can We Be Wrong? (PT) / How Much Do You Mean To Me? (PT) - ca 10/38
2127 I Won't Tell A Soul (I Love You) (PT) / Toadie Toddle - ca 10/38
2204 Bless You My Dear (PT) / Mess-A Stomp - ca 11/38
2226 Ghost Of Love (PT) / Jump Jack - ca 12/38
2261 Breeze (Blow My Baby Back To Me) (PT) / Sittin' Around And Dreamin' (PT) - 1/39
2277 What Would People Say (PT) / But It Didn't Mean A Thing (PT) - ca 2/39
2326 Honey (PT) / Mary's Idea - ca 3/39
2383 You Set Me On Fire (PT) / Julius Caesar - ca 4/39
2407 I'll Never Fail You (PT) / Close To Five - ca 4/39
2510 (I Guess) I'll Never Learn (PT) / S'posin' (PT) - ca 6/39
2570 Clouds (PT) / Goodbye (PT) - ca 7/39
2617 September In The Rain (PT) / What A Life (Trying To Live Without You) (PT) - ca 9/39
2774 (I Don't Believe It But) Say It Again (PT) / Why Don't I Get Wise To Myself (PT) - ca 11/39
2915 I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You (PT) / Big Jim Blues - ca 1/40
2957 I'm Getting Nowhere With You (PT) / It Always Will Be You - ca 2/40
2962 Love Is The Thing (PT) / Wham-Re-Bop-Boom-Bam - ca 3/40
3033 Why Go On Pretending? (PT) / Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone - ca 4/40
3306 Now I Lay Me Down To Dream (PT) / What's Your Story Morning Glory? - ca 8/40
3350 There Is No Greater Love (PT) / Midnight Stroll - ca 9/40
AFRS JUBILEE - accompanied by Louis Jordan (both recorded in the summer of 1943)
46 My Devotion - 10/43
51 Until The Real Thing Comes Along - 11/43
CORAL (a Decca subsidiary; these were part of Coral 9-8009 - Andy Kirk and His Clouds Of Joy Souvenir Album vol. 1 - a 4-record set) - late 1950
9-60021 47th St. Jive / Floyd's Guitar Blues
9-60343 Breeze (Blow My Baby Back To Me) (PT) / September In The Rain (PT)
9-60344 Poor Butterfly (PT) / I'll Get By (As Long As I Have You)
9-60345 I Surrender Dear (PT) / Froggy Bottom
All eight songs were also on an LP, Coral CRL 56019, with the same title. There doesn't seem to have been a Volume 2.