Notebook Cover

Gladys Palmer

By Marv Goldberg

© 2023 by Marv Goldberg

Gladys Palmer had a recording career that spanned 15 years. In all that time, she had only one hit record, but it's a song you'll recognize.

Gladys Palmer

Gladys gave many interviews over the years, so I can easily sum up her life by quoting from them:

[San Francisco Examiner, November 17, 1967] "Born Gladys La Palmere in Kingston, Jamaica (she claims in 1906 although she doesn't look it), Gladys grew up in Chicago, graduated from Atlanta University and by 1930 was working the clubs in the Loop."

[Down Beat July 16, 1947] "She came to the states when 7 to attend boarding school in Atlanta.... She inherited her musical ability from her mother who was a talented pianist and vocalist."

[San Francisco Examiner, March 27, 1985] "The Berkeley [California] resident recently celebrated her 64th year in show business.... Palmer was born to a musically gifted family in Jamaica. Her mother was a pianist, her father a violin virtuoso, and her grandfather played the mandolin until he died at age 95. And Palmer's brother, Vernell Glenn (better known as the Mad Genius), plays piano all over Oakland.... Palmer's family moved from Kingston to Atlanta, Ga. when she was 10. It was there she got her first gig at the age of 15 - singing at rent parties - and started getting serious about the piano.... From 1964 through 1971 Palmer was the featured soloist at the Siam Intercontinental Hotel in Bangkok, owned by the King of Thailand."

[Oakland Tribune, October 7, 1986] "Pianist Gladys Palmer, that grand lady of jazz, will become an octogenarian this Sunday [October 12, 1986; they were probably off by a day].... During her 66 years in the business...."

So you don't need me to do any further digging, do you? Well, there's just one small, teeny, tiny, minuscule problem: almost none of her self-proclaimed biography is true.

What truly amazes me is that she wasn't some hack piano plunker who found it hard to get a job and had to invent a great history for herself. Almost every review I've read called her a great pianist (and not a bad singer).

Anyway, let's take a closer look and try to uncover the real Gladys Palmer.

BIRTH - WHEN: Gladys told Social Security that she was born on October 11, 1906. I can neither confirm nor refute the October 11, but 1906 is clearly wrong. In the 1910 census (taken as of April 15) she's under 1 year old (I can't make out the exact number of months, but it's either 5 or 6). In the 1930 census (taken as of April 1), she's 21. I'm convinced Gladys was born in 1909 (let's keep the October 11). In 1940 (when an 'x' next to her name indicates that she answered the questions), she gave her age as 27. For that to be true, she would have been born on October 11, 1912, so now she's knocking a few years off her age.

BIRTH - WHERE: Where was she born? Not in Kingston, Jamaica, but in good, old Atlanta, Georgia (as were her parents and their parents). This is borne out by the 1910, 1930, and 1940 censuses (I can't find her in 1920 or 1950), as well as what she told Social Security. Her father told the draft board in both WW1 and WW2 that he was born in Jonesboro, Clayton County, Georgia (just south of Atlanta). However, her mother's second husband, Incell Cromwell, was born in Jamaica, so Gladys might have appropriated his history.

NAME: Was she really Gladys La Palmere? Nope. She was born Gladys Emma Palmore, in Atlanta. Gladys invented the "La" early in her career, and occasionally billed herself as "La Palmere", "La Palmore", and even "La Palmer". "Gladys Palmer" was a stage name, but one it took her a while to be consistent with.

PARENTS: Gladys told Social Security that she was the daughter of Herod Palmore and Maggie Cromwell. However, her mother's actual maiden name was "Maggie Wilson" (Maggie's second husband's name was "Cromwell"). In September 1918, when Herod registered for the draft, he and Maggie seem to still be married (they were both at RFD 2 in Jonesboro, Georgia). In the 1920 census, Herod was still in Jonesboro, but Maggie had moved back to Atlanta (and both claimed to be widowed!). I have no idea where Gladys was in 1920.

MUSICAL BACKGROUND: I can't really say whether her parents were musically inclined, but in 1910, her father was an elevator operator, later became a farmer and, still later, a janitor. Her mother was a homemaker and later a cook and a maid. In 1947, she said her mother was a "talented pianist"; by 1985, she'd added that her father was "a violin virtuoso". Wouldn't you think she'd have remembered that in 1947?

GROWING UP IN CHICAGO: She didn't. In the 1930 census, she's living with her grandmother, Emma Wilson, in Atlanta, and is a musician. She's also in the 1932 Atlanta City Directory as a musician, but the 1933 directory lists her as a maid. I really have no idea if she graduated Atlanta University (or if she even attended it). However, in the 1940 census (which she, herself, answered), she gave her "highest grade of school completed" as fourth year of high school. She wasn't working Chicago clubs by 1930; she's first mentioned in the Chicago Defender of December 7, 1935, when she was appearing in Detroit. She wasn't advertised as appearing in Chicago until August 1936. [Note that there was a somewhat famous Vaudeville actress named Gladys Palmer, who died in April 1937. There was also a contemporary contralto by that name. Actually, you probably have no idea how common a name "Gladys Palmer" was. Sadly, I do.]

HER BROTHER: Vernell Glenn wasn't her brother (I made this wild guess mostly because he had different parents: Douglas Glenn and Amelia Tucker). He was born in Chicago in 1917, and there's no proof that he was even a relative. Gladys had no known siblings.

SHOW BUSINESS CAREER: If she truly celebrated her 64th year in show business in early 1985, that would mean she started playing house rent parties in early 1921, when, by my calculations, she would have been 11 years old. Assuming that's true, I think that's when she started lying about her age and adding a few years to it so that she could get into these parties. Claiming to have been born in 1906 would have made her 14 (still far too young for these things, but better than 11). Then again, she claimed to have been 15 when she started, throwing everything off by a year. She simply isn't consistent. We know this is true because she claimed to be in the business for 66 years in 1985, only a year after she'd said 64.

THAILAND: Was she really in Thailand from 1964 through 1971? Nope. I can find engagements from 1964 through 1968 in the San Francisco-Oakland area. Since I can't find her at all from 1969 through November 1976, I suppose she could have been there then. However, there are no records of her having left or re-entered the country at any time under any name I know about.

As I said above, she's in Atlanta in 1932 as a musician, although there are no advertisements for her there. However, I assume her career wasn't going well: the 1933 Atlanta City Directory has her as a maid (at the same address as mother Maggie, also a maid). The first time we hear of Gladys as an entertainer is a small ad in the May 30, 1934 Birmingham, Alabama News. It went:

      Colored entertainer.
      Write or telegraph
      Jack Hunt, Manager of The Pioneer's Club,
      No. 108 N. Court St., Montgomery, Ala.

In January 1935, she got not one, but two, 15-minute radio shows, over WGST and WJTL, both Atlanta stations. Her first show was on January 12 and the last on April 6. She was always "Gladys La Palmore" (or "LaPalmore") except for her WGST show on January 21, when it was just "Gladys Palmore" (that was also the only day that she was heard on both stations, although at different times). There doesn't seem to be any pattern for what days she was on, but there was a total of 26 shows during that period.

On May 9, 1935 "Gladys La Palmore" was one of the performers in the "Vodvil Revue" at the Gem Theater in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was sponsored by the Farragut Hotel Bellboys for the benefit of the Payne Avenue Day Nursery.

In August 1935, she (as plain old "Gladys Palmer") had three sessions for Decca Records in New York:

August 6: "I'm Livin' In A Great Big Way", "In The Middle Of A Kiss", and "Get Behind Me Satan"

August 7: "Trees"

August 9: "My Special Man Is Back In Town"

Decca 7106 In late August, Decca issued "I'm Livin' In A Great Big Way", backed with "In The Middle Of A Kiss". A September 15 record store ad called it a "new arrival".

at the Apollo During the week of September 27, 1935, Gladys was at the Apollo Theater, in the cast of "Hot Chocolates Of 1936". This was the new edition of the revue, put together by Connie Immerman, owner of Connie's Inn; presumably Gladys was hired when she came to New York to record. The "Hot Chocolates" revues had been started back when Connie's Inn was still in Harlem (as early as 1929). By 1934, the club had moved downtown to Broadway, and the revue was now mostly a road show. Others in the cast were Radcliff & Rogers; the 3 Miller Brothers; the Dixie Four; the LeRoy Smith Band (with that up-and-coming sax player, Louis Jordan); Ford, Marshall, & Jones; George Williams; and Roland Holder. The Apollo Theater blurb (in the September 28 New York Age) called Gladys "a new singing sensation who has never before appeared in the East and who comes with prediction of outstanding genius." The earliest appearance for the show I can find is when it played Proctor's Theater in Schenectady, New York on September 6.

This was in the October 5 Indianapolis Recorder:

Connie Immerman of Connie's Inn fame in Harlem, is sending out another of his Sepia floor shows for stage appearances. The Unit's top specialists are Gladys Palmer, Leroy Smith, and Ford, Marshall, and Jones.

The troupe will play two weeks to exclusive Sepia houses before taking to the schedule of the major circuit, which is slated for thirteen weeks. [Unfortunately, no venues were named.]

at the Palace On October 25th, the tour appeared at the Palace Theater in Cleveland, presumably for a week, but that's the only other ad I could find.

ad for Trees Decca 7107 Also in October, Decca released "Get Behind Me Satan" (or "Get Behind Satin", as one [presumably fabric-oriented] site has it), coupled with "Trees".

The July 11, 1936 Billboard reported that Gladys Palmer was in the cocktail lounge of the Three Deuces in Chicago (Art Tatum was in the main room). Without being more specific, the August 29, 1936 Pittsburgh Courier said "Gladys Palmer upsetting the clubs of the Southside with her swell singing of 'These Foolish Things'."

on WGN On December 30, "Gladys La Palmer" was one of the acts on the "Fireside Theater" over Chicago's WGN. The show also had pianist Meade Lux Lewis, the New Dixie Demons (who "will sing and play a program of hillbilly tunes in swing time"), and Adrian & His Orchestra.

Roy Eldridge at the 3 Deuces In a January 4, 1937 ad, Gladys Palmer ("Personality Pianist") was back at the Three Deuces, along with trumpeter Roy Eldridge and his band (with Zutty Singleton on drums).

Vocalion 3458 As long as Gladys and Roy were appearing together, they might as well record together. And this they did, on January 23, 1937, for Brunswick's Vocalion subsidiary. The two songs, released in February, were "Where The Lazy River Goes By" and "After You've Gone".

Gladys and Roy, along with Cleo Brown, were still at the the Three Deuces in March, when Down Beat reported: "Gladys Palmer, the gal with the pearly teeth and the big personality smile, is dispensing her fine style of songs and doing a bit of 'tickle the ivory' business behind the bar." By May, Slim Green had been added to the mix. (In 1933, he'd been part of the Riff Brothers, a precursor to the Ink Spots, along with Deek Watson, Hoppy Jones, and Miff Campbell.)

at the 3 Deuces Still at the Three Deuces, Gladys journeyed to Georgia to entertain at the opening of Atlanta's Top Hat Ballroom on May 5. Also there was Andy Kirk and his 12 Clouds Of Joy (with Pha Terrell and Mary Lou Williams). The May 29, 1937 Indianapolis Recorder said:

Among the celebrities present at the debut was Gladys Palmer, famed entertainer at Chicago's renowned Three Deuces Cafe. In response to numerous requests and thunderous applause, Miss Palmer favored the guests with several numbers as well as to render an artistic version of the "Truckin'", "Susi-Q", and the "Peckin'". Sharing in the entertainment spotlight was Buddy Palmore, youthful tap dancing star.

I have to believe that Buddy Palmore was a relative, although not her brother. However, this is the only mention of him ever and I don't know his actual first name.

Gladys and Roy were still at the Three Deuces in mid-July 1937, but that was the last time Gladys' name was mentioned there.

We don't hear of Gladys again until March 17, 1938, when she opened at Mammy's Chicken Farm on 52nd Street in Manhattan. The March 18 Brooklyn Daily Eagle said she "was among the first to sing old time tunes in swing, with her best-selling recording of 'Trees'...." The April 9 Pittsburgh Courier said:

Mammy's Chicken Farm, which, although is on 52nd street, is not a farm but a swing spot, and does not belong to Mammy, but to Will Rockwell, an ex-member of Rockwell-O'Keefe. [This was the booking agency that became GAC - General Amusement Corporation. Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, and the Dorsey Brothers were clients.]

Like many other clubs along the lane, it features sepia singers and swingers, or a combination of both. Bob Howard and Billy Daniels, who have been brought back by popular demand swing, sing out lustily [sic; possibly they meant "swing and sing out lustily"]. Another artiste of the same type is Gladys Palmer, who hails from the Windy City, and is remembered for her scat rendition of "Trees" back in '35. Miss Palmer was one of the first to enter into the swing-the-classics field with this epic song of Joyce Kilmer's. [If you're interested, Joyce Kilmer's actual first name was Alfred; Joyce was his middle name. However, more germane to our article, his father was Frederick Barnett Kilmer, a pharmacist who worked for Johnson & Johnson and was responsible for Johnson's Baby Powder.]

The April 16, 1938 Billboard reviewed the show at Mammy's Chicken Farm: "Gladys Palmer, an attractive and hefty-ish gal, sings classics and pops with verve and distinction, having made a reputation in Chicago for her swing and ingratiating personality, a clear voice, and a swell sense of rhythm, accompanying herself at the piano as well."

Gladys later claimed she was Billie Holiday's pianist in 1938 and into the 40s. However, nothing in contemporary papers supports this. Moreover, she's always listed as performing by herself from 1938 through 1943, at which time she went to California for a couple of years.

Gladys Palmer - 1939 Floyd Snelson's "Harlem" column in the October 29, 1938 New York Age, talking about the Famous Door (another 52nd Street club), said: "Here I met a very clever girl, Gladys Palmer, formerly of the Three Deuces Cafe, Chicago, who gained fame in her recordings of 'Trees', 'Get Behind Me Satan', etc., with Roy Eldridge.... Miss Palmer is from Atlanta University." It doesn't say that she was performing there, only that he met her there.

at the State Lake Theater at the Rose Bowl In early February 1939, Gladys was at the Rose Bowl, a newly-remodeled club in Chicago; she was still there twelve weeks later (in early May). An ad, calling her the "Swing Songstress Of The Ivories", said that she'd be opening at the State Lake Theater (Chicago) on May 12 (when the headliner was Stuff Smith) and be at the Regal Theater the week of May 19. By mid-July, she was back at the Three Deuces, this time with her own orchestra.

Get out your instant rice. The January 13, 1940 Chicago Defender said:

Now that it has been officially announced, congratulations are in order for Gladys Palmer and Virgil "Penny" Pendorvis of the "Two Esquires". This happy pair will do a center aisle trek during the merry month of June.

They were close, his name was "Pendarvis", not "Pendorvis". Usually blurbs like this are just rumors, but this time it was true (although they didn't wait for June and were married by the time of the 1940 census in April). (Since I know you're interested, Johnnie Logan seems to have been the other half of the Two Esquires.) In the census, she called herself a dancer, rather than a singer or entertainer. In October of that year, Virgil named Gladys as his wife in his WW2 draft registration. (I guess they didn't talk much. In the census, she said he was born in Missouri, but on his draft registration, he said it was in Oklahoma.) Other than those two documents and the newspaper blurb, I can't find any other trace of them together, and the marriage ended in divorce at some point in the 1940s. (In 1950, he was living in San Francisco - married to Jewel - and said he been born in Kansas. I guess his parents moved around a lot.)

Between August 1940 and February 1941, Gladys appeared at Elmer's Cocktail Lounge in Chicago. The August 17, 1940 Chicago Defender said (under the heading "Gladys Palmer, New Loop Star"):

Gladys Palmer, long a sensation in Chicago's loop theater district is wowing 'em once again as she cuts up swing at Elmer's Cocktail Lounge. Miss Palmer is one of the most sought after cafe singers in the West and has had to turn down several offers to go east because of contractual obligations here.

On April 13, 1941, Gladys ("wizard of ivories") was part of a swing concert, given by Musicians' Local 208 at Bacon's Casino. It was intended to raise money for medical care for the members. Others performing were Tiny Parham, the 4 Vagabonds, Stuff Smith, the Sharps & Flats, the King Cole Trio, and pianist Billy Ward. (In spite of the fact that Dominoes founder Billy Ward studied piano in Chicago, this is a different man.)

In late May, 1941, Gladys appeared, with King Kolax, at the Grand Terrace Ballroom in Chicago. The July 19 Chicago Defender, talking about the Tropical Club, said: "Gladys Palmer, of course, continues to wow 'em with her chirping at the bar-piano. She is part of a sensational show that knocks them cold nightly."

Cleveland had an honorary post called the "Mayor Of Cleveland's Harlem". An election was held on January 11, 1942 at Cedar Gardens; entertainment was by Ducky Malvin ("and his famous orchestra"), along with Gladys Palmer. Said the January 3 Cleveland Call And Post: "The program is developed and composed of famous mayors of Harlem from different cities." Who knew?

By early March, Gladys was back at Chicago's new Three Deuces. An article in the March 15, 1942 Down Beat said "Sam Beers, famous for his discovery of Art Tatum, Cleo Brown, Roy Eldridge and other jazz stars, opened the new Three Deuces club here last month at the corner of Wabash and Van Buren. Down Beat readers will recall that Beers' old cafe went up in smoke on New Years Eve, 1939. Featured at the new Three Deuces is Gladys Palmer and a sepia instrumental trio." That's so vague I can't tell if it's her trio or just another, unnamed act (which could have been the Sharps & Flats).

at the Garrick Stage Bar However, on March 18, Gladys opened at the Garrick Stage Bar. The ad said there were four great stars, then went on to name five: Stuff Smith, the Jimmy Noone Trio, the Ascot Boys, 3 Sharps And A Flat, and June Price. Number six was: "Extra! Added! Gladys Palmer In Person". She was still there five months later, when the August 15 Down Beat had this:

Gladys Palmer, so long with the Garrick Stage Bar intermission time that people say "is she still there?", is doing a more than wonderful piano job, to our way of thinking. Her voice, even with a bad cold, is interesting. Gladys has a very able left hand and does not neglect the right hand to prove it."

The August 29, 1942 Billboard reviewed the whole Garrick show. Here's the complete review:

This is a jive spot for musicians and jitterbugs who care for an overdose of unorthodox music and vocals. It is the top bar hangout on Randolph Street, with the padlocking of the near-by Brass Rail and Hollywood Show Lounge. Strangely enough, business fell off since the competitive spots closed (not as much traffic at night). And, too, the rule barring women from the bar is not helping the cash register. However, this condition should improve, once women get used to sitting at tables.

Talent highlights are in the cellar, where the joint is really jumpin'. Red Allen, on trumpet, and J.C. Higginbotham, on trombone (two Louis Armstrong alumni) lead a six-piece colored outfit that packs plenty of instrumental punch. They are assisted by one sax and three rhythm. Whatever showmanship these boys possess, they put in their instruments. Musikers and j-bugs love them. [In English: music fans and jitterbug dancers.]

Billie Holiday (now a redhead) is on several times a night with her special kind of vocalizing, another treat for the hepcats. An ordinary customer will have trouble recognizing the familiar melodies of Summertime, I'll Get By, and The Man I Love, which she handles, but not her fans, who want her out-of-this-world treatments.

Intermission sets are capably handled by copper-colored Gladys Palmer, a good-looking gal who can sing the blues and play a piano. Made to order for this spot.

Street floor bar features the colored quartets of the Sharps and Flats, the Cats 'n the Fiddle, with Sinclair Mills, colored pianist, jiving away at intermissions. Art Van Damme's trio (accordion, bass, guitar) furnish afternoon music.

Remember that Gladys later claimed she was Billie Holiday's pianist in 1938 and into the 40s, but note that, while they're both appearing at the Garrick, their names aren't otherwise associated. You'd think that, since their names were in adjoining paragraphs, the writer would have noted that Gladys also served as Billie's accompanist, if it were true.

Down Beat reviewed Gladys (at the Garrick) in their September 1 issue. Interestingly, she appeared in the Garrick's Down Beat Room.

A piano single, Gladys Palmer is an old hand at entertaining Chicagoans. Her vocals are definitely of the whiskey huskiness style and have a refreshing charm which makes you feel that she would give a lot of competition in the stylized vocal field if she were to make a crack at it, which she won't. Her piano work is amazing for its ideas and perpetration of those ideas. Easy on the keys, she works with feeling showing equal ability on bass and treble and amazing ability on both.

Gladys works only in the key of "C" and has an amazing way of ignoring such key changes as in Body And Soul to your complete satisfaction. She likes to work with the small combo on the stage and usually does a couple of numbers with them each group. She has written a very terrific ballad, This Will Make You Laugh, which will darn near make you cry. Gladys is very popular for her work with all musicians and, though she gives manager Joe Sherman a rough time, he avows he'll never fire her. In our opinion, he'd be stupid to even consider it. She's that good. [Again, there's no mention of her accompanying Billie Holiday. And, adds Robert Campbell of the Red Saunders Research Foundation: "If Gladys was the kind of self-taught pianist who played only in C (as stated in an early live performance review) there is NO WAY Billie Holiday (or any other professional singer) would have hired her."]

Sometime in November 1942, according to the December 1 Down Beat, Gladys left the Garrick:

Billie Holiday and Gladys Palmer insist that everything is hunky dory and that there never was any fighting between the two. Gladys insists that Billie is her favorite singer and a real gal. . . Incidentally, Gladys Palmer left the Garrick for a job in Grand Rapids, Michigan. . . Nettie Saunders took Miss Palmer's place. . . this is not good. [Sorry Nettie.]

This is the only account I could find of the two of them ever having talked to each other.

Gladys Palmer - 1943 at the Club Congo Then, Gladys hooked up with producer Larry Steele, becoming the headliner in his new show, "Keeping Up The Good Morale". It debuted at Detroit's Club Congo on February 5, 1943, and she'd be in Steele shows there through April. The February 6 Detroit Tribune said: "Holding the featured role in the new show is Gladys Palmer, a pretty girl with a good voice who is labeled the new swing sensation by music critics. She is also a radio and recording artist of renown."

Also in that show were Red & Curley, who would end up with Lionel Hampton. William "Curley" Hamner got half writer credit for "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop"

When Gladys's grandmother, Emma Wilson, died in February 1943, the obituary called her "The mother of Mrs. Maggie Cromwell and grandmother of Mrs. Gladys Palmore [italics mine], of 465 Nelson street S.W." This seems to say that they were both at the same address and that Gladys was still living in Atlanta. However, Gladys was appearing in Detroit and living in Chicago. I'm somewhat confused about the "Mrs.". It could mean that they knew she was married, but separated, and used "Gladys Palmore" because club-goers in Atlanta would recognize it.

On February 18, Gladys was on the radio. I don't know much about it, but the February 20 Michigan Chronicle said: "Gladys Palmer, featured star in the floor show at Club Congo, made an excellent impression in her radio broadcast last Thursday over station WJLB." Unfortunately, it didn't name the program (although it probably wasn't "Polish Radio Family".)

Papers continued to rave over Gladys:

Gladys Palmer is going great as star of the show, "Keep Up The Good Morale", and gives out with some jive singing and boogie-woogie pianoing that ought to get Detroit's war workers (to whom the show is dedicated) into the swing of things. "Embrace Me" and "Somebody Loves Me" are just two of the numbers that she's taking repeats on night after night. [Detroit Evening Times - February 12, 1943]

Gladys Palmer, headlining the new floor show at Club Congo is a terrific pianist . . . especially when it comes to thumping out boogie woogie. [Michigan Chronicle - February 13, 1943]

That charming and comely young woman, Gladys Palmer, spread a wealth of applause over Club Congo last Friday night as headliner in Larry Steele's new production, "Keeping Up The Good Morale", a show dedicated to the war workers of America. Miss Palmer whipped up a storm of applause with her singing and playing of the piano, especially when she ventured over into the boogie-woogie department. And her singing of "Slender, Tender and Tall" was the opening number which sent the crowd into the right mood. She came back with "St. Louis Blues" and encored with "I Got It Bad", with some boogie woogie playing in between. [Michigan Chronicle - February 13, 1943]

A fast and colorful floor show featuring Gladys Palmer, new swing sensation, opened at Club Congo last Friday night. The name of the show is "Keeping Up The Good Morale", and producer Larry Steele has dedicated the show to the war workers of America... Miss Palmer, who comes directly from Chicago, scores heavily with "Slender, Tender and Tall", and "St. Louis Blues", and encores with "I Got It Bad". In between the songs, she gives a good performance on the piano keyboard, featuring in boogie woogie... The lovely pianist and singer adds to her performance with a captivating smile and a willingness to perform as long as the patrons demand. [Detroit Tribune - February 13, 1943]

In the meantime [the main part of this article was about the Congo's chorus girls' wage strike], Gladys Palmer is setting a fast pace as featured star in Larry Steele's production, "Keeping Up The Good Moral [sic]". Miss Palmer is one of the best pianists ever to appear at Club Congo, and that covers plenty of territory. [Michigan Chronicle - February 20, 1943]

at the Club Congo In a spectacular revue, dubbed "Spotlight-Camera-Action", Larry Steele sports his talent at creating music, routines, costumes and backgrounds. To top it off, Larry masters the ceremonies. Headliner Gladys Palmer seats herself at the piano and gives out with some mighty boogie-woogie on the vocals, and a clowning pair, Red and Curley, execute a bit of tuneful drum-boogie. [Detroit Evening Times - March 5, 1943]

Larry Steele's production, "Keeping Up The Good Morale", is being held over at Club Congo for another run of three weeks. [I'm confused; the prior item said that there was a new revue with Gladys; this one says the old one was being extended. However, see the next item.] The floor show features Gladys Palmer, the pianist deluxe; Red and Curley, two stars of drum-boogie; Lovey Lane, exotic dancer; Lillian Fitzgerald, comedienne; and Caritha Harbert, soubrette. Steele emcees the show. The music is furnished by James Martin's Club Congo band. [Michigan Chronicle - March 6, 1943]

Larry Steele presents All New Show featuring Gladys Palmer [ad in the Detroit Evening Times - March 8, 1943; the name of the show wasn't given]

Larry Steele, bond selling m.c.-producer, has a show guaranteed to keep Club Congo patrons content and free from big worries. He is holding over Gladys Palmer, the miss who can do things with the song "Slender, Tender and Tall". We have seen lots of shows at the Club Congo in the past, but we can truthfully say that Larry Steele "came on" with his latest production. It is entertaining, shows good work, and leaves you with a fine feeling. [Detroit Tribune - March 13, 1943]

A living story of what Harlem is doing toward the war effort is woven into the new floor show Producer Larry Steele will present to the patrons of Club Congo Friday night. The name of the new vehicle is "Harlem On Parade" and headlines Miss Gladys Palmer, sensational swing pianist who has been held over after six weeks by popular demand, and that's no jive. [Michigan Chronicle - March 27, 1943]

at the Club Congo The boogie woogie piano-playing and singing of Gladys Palmer continues to headline the Club Congo show. Larry Steele, who stages the production, "Harlem On Parade", also serves as master of ceremonies. [Detroit Free Press - April 1, 1943]

When Miss Gladys Palmer, boogie-woogie pianist, headlined the new floor show, "Harlem On Parade", which opened at Club Congo Friday night, she began the third consecutive show at the famous Adams Avenue nitery of which she has been the featured star. This equals the record established by Una Mae Carlisle, predecessor of Miss Palmer as featured pianist at Club Congo. [Michigan Chronicle - April 3, 1943]

Larry Steele is doing a good job at the Club Congo, where his star, Gladys Palmer, is the toast of the Valley. [Detroit Tribune - April 10, 1943]

at the Club Congo But all things come to an end. The last mention of Gladys at the Club Congo was on April 17: "Gladys Palmer is as popular as ever with her rendition of 'St. Louis Blues' and other favorites." Then, the May 8 Billboard said: "Gladys Palmer opened at the La Playa Lounge, Detroit."

And then, back to Chicago. The August 28 Chicago Defender said: "Gladys Palmer is in town prepping for a big Loop engagement."

At some point, she went back to the Garrick Bar. We know this because the October 2, 1943 Billboard said: "Bert Gervis, local manager, has just signed up Gladys Palmer, colored pianist and singer, who moves tomorrow ([September] 26) from the Garrick Bar into the Latin Quarter here [Chicago]." However, for a change, she didn't do well. The October 16 Billboard reported:

LATIN QUARTER, CHICAGO - Since the departure of the ailing Dorothy Donegan, boogie-woogie piano name here, operator Ralph Berger has had his headaches finding a suitable headliner to augment the currently successful revue featuring Buddy Lester, long-run emsee and comic; Hibbert, Bird, and LaRue, comedy dance trio; and Karen Cooper, singer. Frances Faye saved the show for a week, but had to return east for Artists And Models. Gladys Palmer, another colored pianist, stayed a week, but couldn't hold up the strong spot. Now Grace Hayes, former vaude name, is in, but she, too, is a definite mis-booking.

Good as Gladys was, Dorothy Donegan and Mary Lou Williams were generally acknowledged as the best female boogie-woogie pianists.

at the Regal Gladys began a week at Chicago's Regal Theater on November 5. Called "That High Priestess Of Jive", she shared the stage with Ben Carter, Mantan Moreland, and Jay McShann's Swing King Orchestra.

On November 13, 1943, Gladys started at the Beachcomber in Omaha, Nebraska (which I didn't know had beaches). It looks like the Cats & The Fiddle were also there.

Then, Gladys went out to the West Coast, staying there from December 1943 through, probably, the end of 1945 (she was definitely gone from California by April 1946). She'd later claim her California stint was four years, rather than two.

Many performers recorded songs for the Armed Forces Radio Services (AFRS) shows in Los Angeles. Gladys' name is associated with AFRS #61, but I've listened to the entire program and she isn't on it. It's possible she recorded a number (on January 17, 1944) but it ended up not being used.

Gladys Palmer - 1944 For a while, Billboard followed Gladys' progress through California: "booked into the Streets Of Paris to open December 21" [December 18, 1943]. "booked for Topsy's, Southgate, Calif." [May 27, 1944]. "closed the Rhythm Spot in Los Angeles and moved into Topsy's, South Gate, Calif." [June 3, 1944]. "at the Rhythm Club, Los Angeles" [June 17, 1944].

The July 1, 1944 Billboard reviewed her Rhythm Club appearance:

Gladys Palmer was better known in the Middle West than on the West Coast until she played her initial engagement in Hollywood recently. Her fine piano technique has won a host of followers.

Spotted at the Rhythm Club, her audience is strictly stay-out-laters, as nothing moves here until after 1 a.m. Late hours have their advantage in that they bring those who are willing to forego sleep for jive. What Miss Palmer gives them in the way of pianology and vocals compensates well for yawns the next day. [Clubs stayed open throughout the night so that war workers could get some entertainment.]

Making a good appearance, Miss Palmer features the boogie treatment in her piano work. She has a piano styling that will catch on in any spot where jive is welcomed. It will catch on faster in the classy lounges.

The Billboard Music Year Book, published in September 1944 had a small biography, which, fortunately, had no personal details that need refuting:

ad from her mgmt Known as the "High Priestess Of Jive", Gladys Palmer slings a boogie-woogie repertoire with plenty of Nubian rhythm and volume that has won her the title of the "First Lady Of The Ivories". With sparkling personality, this lovely colored lass is known for her terrific piano touch that has won her engagements at such top spots as the Latin Quarter in Chicago's Loop. Is currently playing at Ciro's, Oakland, Calif. Her West Coast representative is Henry Miller of General Amusement Corporation's Hollywood office. She is under the personal management of the Bert Gervis Agency.

But there was some trouble, too. This was from the September 2, 1944 Ventura County Star:

Charging that the 101 Ranch House cafe on Oxnard Boulevard discriminated against her because of race and color in refusing to serve her a meal, Gladys La Palmere, Negro member of a troupe of entertainers, is suing the cafe for $5,000, according to a complaint filed today in superior court.

Miss La Palmere has been touring army hospitals with a group of entertainers of the Fellow American club, sponsored by Al Jarvis, well-known radio entertainer and "Make Believe Ballroom" emcee. Her complaint alleges that she was refused a meal at the cafe when she stopped there May 14, with 23 other members of the company, including Jarvis.

As is usual with things like this, there was no follow-up article.

By February 7, 1945, Gladys was appearing at the Club Cobra in Los Angeles, along with Roy Milton. They were still there a week later, but that was the last time the Cobra was mentioned until August, when the Flennoy Trio started there.

Gladys was part of a Lamplighter Coast Guard Jazz & Jam Session held at the Streets Of Paris on August 26, 1945. Others appearing were Zutty Singleton, Barney Bigard, Jake Porter, Monette More, Sammy Yates, Fletcher Henderson, King Perry, Vic Dickinson, and Emmett Berry. It's unclear whether she was currently at the Streets Of Paris or just about to open there.

But that's the last we hear of Gladys in California (and the last we hear of her anywhere for the next eight months).

at Wilpolt's Floyd Hunt Quartet She next turns up, along with the Floyd Hunt Quartet, at Wilpolt's Bamboo Room in Kenosha, Wisconsin, from late April 1946 through the end of June. She was first advertised on April 23, although Hunt had been there since January.

The September 23, 1946 Down Beat said: "Gladys Palmer has returned to the Windy City after four years on the west coast." I guess two years and four years aren't that far apart.

Lew Simpkins Lee Egalnick Finally, some more recording; this time for Lee Egalnick and Lew Simpkins' Miracle Records in Chicago. Reuniting with the Floyd Hunt Quartet (Floyd Hunt, vibes; Tommy House, guitar; Clarence Hall, piano; and Alton McDonald, bass [he'd later go with the Ralph Wilson Quintet)], she recorded two sides at an October 1946 Chicago session: "Ain't That Just Like A Man" and "Fool That I Am". At the same session, the Quartet recorded "Harlem Breakdown" and "I'll Get By".

I don't know when she started (no later than December 1946), but Gladys was at Ann Hughes' Monte Carlo Cafe (Chicago) for 24 weeks. In April, the Chicago Defender said: "Miss Palmer who handles the spot's entertainment program was grabbed from the Loop several months ago and has become a fixture at the hot spot. Her singing and fine piano plunking attracts large crowds from the Loop district nightly and is the reason for the lounge being the gathering place for musicians from theatres and other places on the southside and the Loop."

Miracle 104 In May 1947, Miracle issued "Fool That I Am" (heavily cut down from the full master), backed with Floyd Hunt's "Harlem Breakdown". This is from the Red Saunders Research Foundation's Miracle Records page:

Palmer recorded "Fool That I Am" (Miracle 104) as the vocalist on the Floyd Hunt Quartet session in October 1946. With slender resources, Miracle didn't release it until May 1947. By August, it was starting to move, and the ballad standard went to the lofty #3 position on Billboard's Race Jukebox chart in the fall of 1947. Her other vocal side, "Ain't That Just like a Man," was eventually released, but only after Miracle had gone out of business.

A classic torch song, "Fool That I Am" was initially done so slowly the first completed take ran to 3 minutes and 58 seconds. This made it a poor candidate for uncut release on a 10-inch 78. After a brief introduction, the first take went straight into Palmer's vocal. She sang the entire song, there was a long guitar solo, and then Palmer reprised the song at "Fool that I am, I thought you would understand." Despite the availability of the shorter take 2, Egalnick and Simpkins obviously preferred take 1. It underwent surgery. Palmer's complete rendition of the song was cut starting at "Fool that I am, I thought you would understand"; so was the ensuing guitar solo. Instead the remastered side picked up with her vocal reprise and ended as take 1 had originally done. To our knowledge all releases of take 1 have been as edited.

The second completed take, which featured a 45-second solo on the vibes before the vocal, was just a hair faster, but it ended with the vocal chorus. At 3:05 or so, take 2 was easily mastered uncut for a 10-inch 78. It was eventually released, on a Federal 78 after Miracle closed down. Federal had both takes in its possession, so there must have been a deliberate decision somewhere.

The original version of "Fool That I Am" (written by Floyd Hunt) had been done by Valaida Snow (with the Buzz Adlam Orchestra and the Day Dreamers) on Bel-Tone around April 1946 and promptly went nowhere. Not so with Gladys' version, which would become Miracle's first national hit.

In July, when Gladys was at the Tailspin in Chicago, the July 16, 1947 Down Beat had a big article about her. This is, seemingly, the first time her invented autobiography was printed. Parts of it said:

Gladys was born in Kensington, Jamaica [sic; she would have said Kingston], where her mother, a cateress, was employed in one of the swank winter homes [I'll let you figure out exactly what that means]. She inherited her musical ability from her mother who was a talented pianist and vocalist....

She came to the States when 7 to attend boarding school in Atlanta....

She went to Hollywood in 1942 and during the next four years....

Again, I have no idea why she felt the need to make up all this stuff.

ad for Fool That I Am ad for Fool That I Am On September 13, 1947, "Fool That I Am" made Billboard's "Most-Played Juke Box Race Records" chart for a single week. It was tied for the #3 position with "Don't You Think I Oughta Know", by Bill Johnson & the Musical Notes. (Louis Jordan held down the top two positions with "Boogie Woogie Blue Plate" and "Jack, You're Dead".)

Cash Box finally got around to reviewing the disc in its October 6 issue:

Music ops are bound to go ga-ga over this one! Another smash recording of this rapidly rising favorite [see below] aimed at ops with race spots is this version of "Fool That I Am", with Gladys Palmer to the fore to charm and enchant the most avid listener. [I swear that sentence is verbatim.] The chirp's heavy throating of this sultry styled ballad should start an avalanche of coin rolling in her direction. Waxing spins in very slow metro [that is, "tempo", based on "metronome"] with musical accompaniment offered coming thru to round out the side. The canary has that extra bit in her tonsils that make [sic] you wanna set [sic] up and take notice. On the flip with some vivid instrumentation by the band, "Harlem Breakdown" echoes thru for a fast ride. Music displayed here is top caliber and should lay heavy with the fast crowd of Jazzophiles. Side to ride with is the top deck - latch on!

I know it's a great review, but it's just so horribly written.

Over the next year, there would be many covers of Gladys' "Fool That I Am" (by now, Valaida Snow's original version had been completely forgotten): Dinah Washington (Mercury), Billy Eckstine & Quartones (MGM), Georgia Gibbs (Majestic), the Ravens (National), Sammy Kaye (vocal by Don Cornell; Victor), Erskine Hawkins (Victor), Brooks Brothers (Decca), and Dinah Shore (Columbia). There'd be many others over the years, including Lavern Baker, Etta James, and Della Reese.

Gladys Palmer - 1947 The Cleveland Call And Post of October 25, 1947 had this waste-of-space blurb, talking about the show at the local Tia Juana Cafe:

With Ace Harris at the piano, first-rate artists at guitar and bass fiddle, rounded out with the "late" Gladys Palmer, who has grown some new hair, also late, and the great, chesty Wynone [sic] Harris (Mailman Blues) for a full entertainment bill . . . it says here.

Sharps & Flats Sonny Thompson A year after her first session, on or about October 26, 1947, Gladys did some more recording for Miracle. On the session, she was backed by pianist Rufus Alfonso "Sonny" Thompson, along with the Sharps & Flats (and a vibes player, who was probably Floyd Hunt): "I Understand We're Through", "S'posin'", "Strangest Feeling", "Song Man", "I'm Pulling Through", and "If It's Love".

On or around November 5, Gladys was added to the session in which Sonny Thompson and the Sharps & Flats recorded part one of "Long Gone". Gladys' vocals were: "Later On", "Tonight You Belong To Me", "You Alone", and "If I Didn't Have You". In addition, she recorded an instrumental, one of her boogie-woogie numbers, called "Palmers Boogie" (spelled, at least on the label, without an apostrophe). It's only Gladys on this, not, as some sources indicate, a duet piece with Sonny Thompson.

On or around November 13, they were all back to record "Forget It", "In The Rain", "Do I Thrill You", and "You're Getting Me Down".

At another session, on or about December 19, 1947, Gladys laid down: "Once You Were Mine" and "Don't Be That Way". However, she seems to have had laryngitis on that day, and neither was ever released.

The December 28, 1947 Chicago Tribune said: "If you remember the old El Grotto, you'll know where the new Beige Room of the Pershing Hotel is. It opened the 19th, with Gladys Palmer headlining, and Lonnie Simmons' new band playing for dancing and a big show staged by Larry Steele. Vester Perkins is the host." A column in the December 27 Pittsburgh Courier said:

... Gladys Palmer, whose wax work on "Fool That I Am" captured the imagination of the musical public was the star attraction. Talented along the lines of Hadda Brooks, Nellie Lutcher, and the rest of the piano-singing real gone gals, Miss Palmer needs not bow to any of like ability. She has plenty on the ball and in the fingers.

One more session with Sonny Thompson and the Sharps & Flats. Held at the last minute (on December 31), the tunes were: "I'll Say It Again", another try at "Once You Were Mine", "My Heart Cries", "Caress Me", and "If I Could Be with You One Hour Tonight".

Why all this recording? On January 1, 1948, the second Petrillo Ban was due to go into effect, preventing union musicians from doing any recording. This meant that companies were stockpiling as many recordings as possible, in order to have product to sell in 1948. However, most of her Miracle recordings went unissued. It's not really hard to determine why: Gladys was a nightclub singer and that's how they recorded her. The arrangements weren't commercial (you can almost hear the clinking of glasses in the background and the raucous mumblings of drunks); regardless of her talent, these wouldn't have sold.

Miracle 123 Sometime in December, Miracle released "If I Didn't Have You", coupled with Gladys' instrumental, "Palmers Boogie". The record was reviewed in the January 3, 1948 Billboard:

If I Didn't Have You (70): Palmer gal uses bit of the Billie Holiday style. Chirps okay on fair bluesy ditty.

Palmer's [sic] Boogie (68): Thrush switches to piano plunking which registers pretty fair.

at the Regal On January 16, 1948, Gladys was part of the week-long stage show at Chicago's Regal Theater. The star was Willie Bryant, who, at the time, was the host of radio's "Harlem Hospitality Club". Also there was Charlie Ventura's orchestra.

If I Didn't Have You No 1 in Chi "If I Didn't Have You" was a big hit on Cash Box's local Chicago chart, rising all the way to #1 by the time of the February 7 issue (as well as the following week). It also did well on the Harlem chart, but was never a national hit.

Gladys was still at the Beige Room in mid-January, before heading back to the Cafe Tia Juana in Cleveland. The January 31, 1948 Cleveland Call And Post said:

Gladys Palmer, the one and only "Fool That I Am" girl, makes her triumphant return to the beautiful Cafe Tia Juana, at 1045 E. 105th Street at Massie Avenue, this Friday, January 30th and will thrill again as she did for the thousands who saw and heard her early this winter. Popular demand caused Catherine Drake and Grafton Hughes to make a quick decision to bring the Palmer back, and with her comes a sensational supporting cast of Miracle Recording stars. The Sharps and Flats, a real gone trio, and Browley Guy, a surprise singing star who will send you!

"A patrons poll has indicated beyond question that notwithstanding all others - and there have been many great ones - Gladys Palmer has enjoyed more infectious personal warmth, and has brought more into the Tia Juana than any other star" declared Grafton Hughes, manager of the most popular cafe spot in town.

The February 7, Call And Post had this: "We're glad to see Gladys Palmer back too, and she's got a swell combo along with her, and a singer in this [Browley] Guy who is real gone."

Miracle 127 In March, Miracle issued "In The Rain", backed by the instrumental "Just Boogie", by Sonny Thompson, along with the Sharps & Flats. March 27 found Gladys and the Paul Williams band opening for a week at the Club Riviera in St. Louis.

ad for In The Rain The April 17, 1948 Cleveland Call And Post reviewed "In The Rain": "Starts out like an old music box. A heart stirring vocal. 'Too much' piano. You'd better dig this disc for yourself." However, after that great review, they said of "Just Boogie": "Gladys proves to be an all star; tickling heaps of eighty-eights." I suppose they never bothered to read the label; she wasn't even on "Just Boogie".

A short sentence in the June 19 Cash Box: "Gladys Palmer, Miracle disk star, opened at the Blue Note [Chicago]."

Cash Box reviewed "In The Rain" on June 26:

Here's a hunk of wax music ops are bound to be featuring in no time at all. Following up her sensational success with "Fool That I Am", chirp Gladys Palmer teams with maestro Sonny Thompson to come up with a pair of nickel nabbers. Gladys in the spotlight on the top deck titled "In The Rain", a slow, tearful piece bound to grow on any listener. Her full fashioned vocal efforts are sure to win ops approval. Wordage of the song is deep and meaningful with Gladys matching brilliant vocal tones that satisfy. Flip has Sonny and the boys knocking out some mellow riffs with "Just Boogie". Sparkling work at the '88 sets the pace with the boogie seeping thru smartly. Both sides are sure to hypo phono play in a big way.

Gladys Palmer ca. 1948 A few months later, she'd changed venues again. The October 16, 1948 Cash Box told us: "Cootie Williams and Gladys Palmer, star of Miracle Records, now holding forth at the Rag Doll, make a big hit with the fans that pack this popular nite spot." Since the Ink Spots had appeared at the Rag Doll from September 17-26, she would have followed directly after them. The blurb went on to say "Pee Wee Hunt and his ork are set for the Doll starting October 12th", so I imagine that she was gone from there by the time the blurb had been printed. Sure enough, the October 20 Down Beat said: "Rag Doll had Gladys Palmer, Eddie South, and Danny Cassella for the period between the Ink Spots and the Pee Wee Hunt-Herb Jeffries opening." (Jeffries was singing with Hunt's band at the time.)

ad for Strangest Feeling Miracle ad Miracle ad Miracle 130 The next Miracle release was "Strangest Feeling", backed with "You Alone", in October 1948. Note that one ad got the record number wrong: they said 129 instead of 130.

at the Say When at the Arena The December 29, 1948 Down Beat reported that "Tenner had Gladys Palmer headlining his show for four weeks beginning December 2...." That's Joe Tenner, owner of San Francisco's Cafe Society Uptown. However, I can't square that with an ad saying that, on December 10, Gladys did a one-night show, with Sonny Thompson, at the Arena in New Castle, Pennsylvania. There are also ads for her at San Francisco's Say When (along with Edgar Hayes and the Stardusters, and Connie Jordan), opening on December 22 (and still there on January 8, 1949). I double checked all the publication dates, but I have to believe that Down Beat had the wrong information. I did some more digging and found that the December 14 San Francisco Examiner said: "Opening at Cafe Society Uptown, the much heralded Billie Holiday. Bob Evans - he of the patent leather manner - will remain, which is good." No mention at all of Gladys there.

Miracle ad Miracle 507 In late April 1949, Miracle released "Song Man", paired with "Later On" (the following month, a version was released by Albennie Jones on Decca). The record was reviewed in the May 14 Billboard:

Song Man (70): Quality mood ballad by Dorothy Sewell and Hal Blake is a class vehicle of the type Billie Holiday used to do. Miss Palmer gives it a sensitive, understanding treatment. Kicks, but not commercial.

Later On (67): Tune is more in the popular mode, and thrush sings it strong, but not with the feeling and appreciation she lavishes on the flip.

In May, Gladys was at the Clef Club in Oakland. At this time, she seems to have relocated to northern California and most of her subsequent appearances were there.

This gibberish was printed in the May 28, 1949 edition of Chicago World, under the heading of "Facts About Folks U No":

Hi-ya guys and gals. I hope you enjoyed this column last week. I know I carried you back a few years, but I am going to try and bring you a bit closer to the modern musician and singer. For instance, I'll start on a gal who has done well for herself lately and that brown gal is none other than Gladys (La Palmore) Palmer. It was she who gave you "Fool That I Am" on Miracle records, and was backed musically with Floyd Hunt's quartet, featuring one of my best musician friends, Clarence Hall, on piano.

Yes, Cats and Chicks, your Ole Scribe first met Gladys Palmer in old "Atlanta, Jorga", back in the early '30s. She was working in and around Atlanta with such bands as Ben Cofer, Graham Jackson, Neal Montgomery and others. [All those were real bands, but her name was never otherwise associated with any of them.]

Did you know this popular recording star can also beat out some rhythm on drums. "And how!" She also worked at the old Pekin Theatre, Montgomery, Ala. Home of Ala. State college. She and her roommate, Virginia Neal, who after joined "Irving [sic; should be Irvin C.] Miller's Brown Skin Models", was the toast of Auburn "Atlanta" Ave. That was yesterday, but today she is the toast of the "Parkway" Chi. She is a must on any stage.

Why do they even bother?

Miracle ad The July 2, 1949 Pittsburgh Courier had this vague item: "Things are equally as quiet in the San Francisco Bay area with Marian Abernathy, Gladys Palmer, and Wilbur Hobbs as the chief headliner." It would have taken too much ink to say where she was appearing.

On a more somber note, the August 27, 1949 Chicago Defender said: "From Berkeley (Cal) comes a note that says talented Gladys Palmer will enter a hospital for a minor operation soon." I have to believe that it really was minor, since nothing else was ever printed about it.

Miracle 149 Around September 1949, Miracle issued the pretty ballad, "I'm Pulling Through", backed with a nice version of the old standard, "Tonight You Belong To Me".

at the It Club at the Mo-Mo Club On September 1, Gladys, along with the Great Gates and the 4 Kings (a band), opened at the Mo-Mo Club in Sacramento, California. There was only a single ad, so I don't know how long the engagement was for. From October 8 through 17, 1949, Gladys headlined at the It Club in El Cerrito, California.

at the Argentina Club The next time we hear of Gladys is when she turned up at a March Of Dimes benefit on February 13, 1950 at the Alameda (California) High School. There were loads of others on the bill, but the only other one I've ever heard of was Dan Grissom. At the time, she was appearing at the Argentina Club in Pittsburg (that's Pittsburg, California) through March 2, when Alvino Rey's Orchestra came in.

I'm sure Gladys was somewhere when they took the 1950 census in April, but I can't find her at all.

Federal 12018 In October 1950, King records purchased the Miracle masters, passing them down to their Federal subsidiary. Around January 1951, Federal issued two previously-unreleased Gladys Palmer songs: "Ain't That Just Like A Man" (from her first Miracle session in October 1946) and "I Understand We're Through". In February, Federal released two that had previously seen the light of day: "Fool That I Am" and "Song Man".

Federal took the original, long recording of "Fool That I Am" and made its own edits, resulting in a song that's around 40 seconds longer than the Miracle version. More of the instrumental portions were retained.

at the Mocambo at the Paradise Club Between March 1950 and June 5, 1953, when she opened at the Paradise Club in Sacramento (along with the Peter Rabbit Trio), there's no trace of Gladys. On July 14, she started at the Mocambo in Oakland; she was still there in November.

at the Blackstone Supper Club at the Colony Club at the Bamboo Room Gladys Palmer - 1954 On January 25, 1954, she opened at the Bamboo Room in Modesto, California for two weeks. Then, she turned up at the Colony Club in Petaluma, California on March 24. The ad said she was returning there, but it's the first ad I could find for her. In September, she was at Elsies' in Oakland. By Thanksgiving, she was at the piano bar of the Blackstone Supper Club in Fresno, California.

Nothing at all in 1955 or 1956, with this one exception: on October 27, 1956, Gladys was one of the guests on a TV program, over KPIX in San Mateo, called "Courtney Showcase", hosted by pianist and former bandleader, Del Courtney. The other guest was Earl "Fatha" Hines. At least she's in good company.

at the Penthouse at Club Kona at the Colony On January 29, 1957 she started at the Colony, in Petaluma, California. A month later (by February 23), she was at the Kona Club in El Cerrito. April 16 found her ("Miss Keyboard") at Charlie's Penthouse in Oakland. She'd be there for two weeks and then head back to the Kona Club. The May 15 Oakland Tribune said:

Kona Club presents Gladys Palmer, who plays the piano like she's got the pink slip [ownership document] on it. Her commanding jazz style on vocals gets the encores, though. A good kid at Kona.

at the Ranch House Restaurant I can't find Gladys in all of 1958, but in February 1959, she was at the Club Black Magic in Las Vegas. December found her at the Ranch House Restaurant in Santa Maria, California.

at the Hotel Leamington All was then quiet until May 1963, when Gladys turned up at the Red Lion Lounge of the Hotel Leamington in Oakland. She'd still be there in mid June.

In May 1964, she was at Earl "Fatha" Hines' Music Cross Roads in Oakland. A long-term engagement was at the Dress Circle Lounge at the Hilton in San Francisco: it lasted from June 20, 1964 through the end of March 1966.

at Slim Jenkins Cafe But by April, 1966, she'd switched over to Slim Jenkins' Cafe in Oakland, and then, from mid-June to mid-August, she was at the Marco Polo in Oakland.

Gladys Palmer - 1967 at the Plate Of Brasse On September 19, 1967, she started at the Plate Of Brasse at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in San Francisco. She was still there through at least the end of November.

Gladys Palmer - 1967 Gladys gave an interview to the San Francisco Examiner (printed on November 17, 1967), in which she repeated all the old tripe about having been born in Jamaica. She also claimed to have gone to Europe with Billie Holiday, although there were never any travel records for her.

On April 15, 1968, she started at The Joker's Wild in San Francisco, and was advertised through the 27th.

Gladys' mother, Maggie Cromwell, died in Oakland, on August 7, 1975. The tiny notice in the August 9 Atlanta Constitution said: "All messages may be sent to Miss Gladys Palmer, 726 60th St., Oakland, Ca. 94609."

As far as appearances, Gladys disappeared for more than 8 years, then turned up, on November 4, 1976, at a luncheon for RSVP (the Retired Senior Volunteer Program) in Berkely, California. In April 1977, she performed at a meeting of the American Association Of Retired People (AARP) in Berkeley. In the little blurb in the April 14 Berkeley Gazette, we learn all we really need to know about her: "Born in Jamaica, she grew up in Chicago; graduated from the Atlanta University, and by 1930 was working the clubs of The Loop." You really don't need me, do you?

On December 3, 1977 she was at a luncheon at the South Berkeley Community Church.

On May 27, 1978, she was part of the cast of "Reminiscin' It: Echoes Of Harlem's Apollo Theater" at the Oakland Auditorium. It looks like there was just a single performance.

June 25, 1980 found her in a tribute to Earl "Fatha" Hines at the Oakland Auditorium. The blurb claimed she was a former Hines vocalist. In mid-September, she was part of jam sessions at Saluto's in San Francisco.

On Feb 27, 1981, Gladys performed at the Black Heritage Expo '81 at Oakland High School.

Gladys Palmer - 1982 And then, the stage beckoned. On January 21, 1982, Gladys was in the cast of a play called "A Full Length Portrait Of America", which opened at the Julian Theater in San Francisco. The play itself had won an award in the 1981 Great American Play contest in Louisville. Here's a synopsis from the January 27, 1982 Miami Herald: "a strange tale of a 75-year-old black woman, an Indian, a baby falling off a ship in the middle of the Pacific, and a bulldozer flattening America." This was a time when the more unintelligible something was, the more meaning it was said to have.

Here's the review from the February 8 San Francisco Examiner:

"A Full Length Portrait Of America," a Julian Theater presentation of a play by Paul D'Andrea.... With Gladys E. Palmer, Bob Smith, Lupo Kaumeheiwa, Michael Chapman, Bob Struckman, Paul Drake. The Julian has created fabulous special effects for a play so full of muddied metaphors and murky semantics as to defy explanation. The theme is apparently the victory of the good folks (two black jazz musicians and an Indian woman) over a symbolic bulldozer. The best cast in the world could not rescue it, but the technical miracles are fun to watch....

I guess Shakespeare wasn't worried. In spite of the pathetic review, it managed to struggle along until February 28.

Gladys was a guest on several TV shows. For example, on March 7, 1982, she was on "Evening Magazine" on Sacramento's KVIE, a PBS station. The listing called her "San Francisco's first lady of jazz, 75-year-old Gladys Palmer." (If I'm right about the year she was actually born, she'd only be 72.)

On March 19, she was part of a jazz benefit called "A Taxi Dance To Tokyo" at the Hotel Shattuck in Berkeley. Remember: Dancers are encouraged to wear fashions of the taxi dance era that extended into the 1940s! They did it again on May 23.

Starting in mid-December 1982, Gladys performed on Saturdays, at the Serenader in Oakland; she was advertised for around a month. [Note that none of my research is helped by the existence, at this time, of a well-known graphic artist and fashion columnist named Gladys Perint Palmer.]

September 8, 1984 found her as part of a salute to Bay Area Veterans in San Francisco.

Gladys Palmer - 1985 The San Francisco Examiner of March 27, 1985 had a large article about Gladys, from which I quoted at the beginning of this piece. It contained all the old nonsense, plus this: she said her only child was John Hearn, Jr., currently living in San Francisco. There was a John Hearn who lived there in 1992, but I can't find out anything else about him. That's the only trace of a John Hearn in San Francisco.

As far as husbands go, I'm stumped. Social Security has her as both "Gladys Emma Palmer" and "Gladys Emma Palmore". I've mentioned one marriage (to Virgil Pendarvis), but she never bothered to tell Social Security about that one, let alone any others, so I have no idea how many times she married. What I find strange is that the earliest date on her Social Security record is October 1981, but, since her Social Security number was issued in Illinois, we know she signed up while she was living there. (Her number started with "346-03", a series that began to be issued in 1936.)

On August 31, 1985, she was at the Old Warehouse Cabaret in Oakland. October 1 found her playing for the opening of the new outdoor dining area of Scott's Seafood Grill & Bar in Oakland. On December 18, she entertained at the YMCA Light Senior Center's birthday party and dance in Berkeley.

January 19, 1986 was a week before Super Bowl XX and Gallagher's, in Oakland, was throwing a "Pre Super Bowl Brunch" party at which Gladys entertained. On February 17, she was part of the entertainment at the San Francisco chapter's Grammy Nominations Party at the Club 4 Twelve.

Starting May 18, 1986, Gladys played Sundays at the Lake Merritt Restaurant in Oakland; she was still there in September. On September 26, she was at another YMCA Light Senior Center's birthday party and dance in Berkeley.

The October 7, 1986 Oakland Tribune said:

Pianist Gladys Palmer, that grand lady of jazz, will become an octogenarian this Sunday. [However, Sunday was October 12 and her birthday was on the 11th. Of course, this assumes that her birthday was in 1906 and not the more reasonable 1909.] Every time I've had the pleasure of watching and listening to Gladys, I am all but overwhelmed by the energy she exudes. Energy aside, there are very few around here who can match her background in jazz. During her 66 years in the business, she has worked with most of the legendary greats from Count Basie and Earl "Fatha" Hines, to Billy [sic] Holiday and Duke Ellington. Gladys has been described as an "incomparable living legend of Classical Jazz". She launched her career at the beginning of what has come to be called the "Jazz Age". So when Gladys talks jazz, everybody listens for she was there from the start.

And how will Gladys celebrate her 80th? Playing jazz, of course. She'll be at Gallagher's, on Jack London Square, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Gallagher's is turning it into a Gladys Palmer birthday party, which means that more than a few local jazz artists will drop by Gallagher's not only to pay their respects, but to sit in with the grand lady. Should be another good jazz Sunday at Gallagher's and I've marked the date on my calendar. Incidentally, Gladys is still going strong on the recording side of the business. Her latest album, "Fool That I Am", has just been released. Now that's what I call "timing". [Notice that, in one short paragraph, the writer has managed to mention Gallagher's four times.]

1986 Devereux cassette Getting ahead of ourselves a bit, the October 16, 1987 San Francisco Examiner said: "Another great Bay Area pianist, Gladys Palmer, 81, has just issued her first cassette album - her first recordings in 40 years; joining her is blues great Charles Brown." This is actually talking about that 1986 album mentioned a year previously. Thanks to Gilles Petard, we know it was a 10-song cassette tape, called "Fool That I Am - Gladys E. Palmer", on Devereux Records. Gladys is the usual pianist, but Charles Brown is on three of the tunes (see discography).

The Civic Arts Theater (Walnut Creek, California) had "Tribute To Billie Holiday" on March 15, 1987. Naturally, Gladys played. Starting in April, she spent weekends at the Overland House Grill in Oakland. By mid-May, she was appearing at the New Orleans Bar & Grill in San Francisco, while still at the Overland. She remained at both through August, before leaving the New Orleans Bar & Grill. She continued to be advertised at the Overland through late April 1988.

Then, for unknown reasons, she left northern California to live in Portland, Oregon. Said the December 13, 1988 Oakland Tribune:

Gladys Palmer, that great lady of jazz and one of its pioneer pianists, is now residing in Portland, Ore. Palmer, of course is no stranger to readers of this column. As I've noted here many times before, she's an octogenarian with more energy to burn than one many years her junior. She's a jazz pianist in every sense of the word and Portland's gain is our loss. You'll find her in Portland at Digger O'Dell's where, as one reader of this column has informed me, she's playing up her usual storm.

I can find a listing for Gladys E. Palmer in the 1987 Portland Directory. Seems to me she'd have been too old to commute between Portland and Oakland, where she was appearing up until April 1988, but I suppose it's possible. Nothing ever said why she'd moved.

However, that was the last thing ever printed about Gladys Palmer.

Gladys Emma Palmer died in April 1993, in Portland, Oregon. Even at the end, she left us with a mystery. Social Security has her death as April 28, but the State Of Oregon's Death Index lists it as April 30.

Once Gladys moved to Oregon, she slipped into obscurity. Sadly, after all the things printed about her in San Francisco and Oakland papers, there was no obituary.

Basically, I like Gladys Palmer. The only one of her songs that I don't care for is her most famous, "Fool That I Am", since I find it kind of draggy. But when you listen to her, you get a sense, not of a singer, but of an entertainer. No wonder she was so popular for so long.

Special thanks to Bob Campbell and the Red Saunders Research Foundation.

7106 I'm Livin' In A Great Big Way / In The Middle Of A Kiss - 8/35
7107 Get Behind Me Satan / Trees - ca 10/35

      39845 My Special Man Is Back In Town (recorded August 9, 1935)

VOCALION (Roy Eldridge - vocal chorus Gladys Palmer)
3458 After You've Gone / Where The Lazy River Goes By - 2/37

104 Fool That I Am / [Harlem Breakdown (I) - Floyd Hunt Qt.] - 5/47
123 If I Didn't Have You / Palmers Boogie (I) - 12/47
127 In The Rain / [Just Boogie (I) - Sonny Thompson, with Sharps & Flats] - 4/48
130 Strangest Feeling / You Alone - 10/48
507 Song Man / Later On - 4/49
149 I'm Pulling Through / Tonight You Belong To Me - ca 9/49

      Ain't That Just Like A Man (recorded 10/1946; subsequently on Federal)
      I Understand We're Through (recorded 10/26/1947; subsequently on Federal)
      S'posin' (recorded 10/26/1947)
      If It's Love (recorded 10/26/1947)
      Forget It (recorded 11/13/1947)
      Do I Thrill You (recorded 11/13/1947)
      You're Getting Me Down (recorded 11/13/1947)
      Once You Were Mine (first version; recorded 12/19/1947)
      Don't Be That Way (recorded 12/19/1947)
      I'll Say It Again (recorded 12/31/1947)
      Once You Were Mine (second version; recorded 12/31/1947)
      My Heart Cries (recorded 12/31/1947)
      Caress Me (recorded 12/31/1947)
      If I Could Be with You One Hour Tonight (recorded 12/31/1947)

FEDERAL (all Miracle masters, purchased in October 1950)
12006 Ain't That Just Like A Man / I Understand We're Through - ca. 1/51
12018 Fool That I Am / Song Man - ca 2/51

DEVEREUX DX-32 Fool That I Am - Gladys E. Palmer - 86
      Ain't Misbehavin
      You've Changed (piano by Charles Brown)
      Round Bout Midnight
      Palmer's Boogie
      Ooh, Baby (piano by Charles Brown)
      Satin Doll
      Come Sunday
      Fool That I Am (piano by Charles Brown)

Official LP OFFICIAL 6048 Gladys Palmer - The High Priestess Of Jive - 89
            (has all the released Decca, Vocalion, and Miracle sides, except the two Miracle masters that were released as Federal 12006)
      Strangest Feeling
      You Alone
      In The Rain
      Palmers Boogie
      If I Didn't Have You
      Later On
      Song Man
      Fool That I Am (Miracle version)
      I'm Pulling Through
      Tonight You Belong To Me
      Where The Lazy River Goes By
      After You've Gone
      I'm Livin' In A Great Big Way
      In The Middle Of A Kiss
      Get Behind Me Satan

Unca Marvy's Home Page

More Articles