While she may not have actually been the first singer to perform live over the airwaves, Vaughn De Leath most certainly was one of the first female vocalists to build up a following and a career through the new medium of radio starting in the early 1920s. In fact, though some sources differ as to the date of her first broadcast, in January 1920 she sang during an experimental program originating from the studio of inventor Lee DeForest in New York City, and she was so successful that just three years later, the magazine The Wireless Age ran an article about her that began as follows:
Thus far no one has come forward to dispute Vaughn De Leath's claim of being "the original radio girl." Probably no one will, for the letters she has from her invisible audience are dated months before radio entertainment became everybody's job. Her first radio appearance was in the early days of 1920, in the World Tower Station, New York City. Even then she sensed radio's impending popularity, and she stoutly defended the latest of arts and sciences against those who contended it would not last. (February 1923, page 27).
|DeLeath made a couple of fine records with popular bandleader Paul Whiteman|
Her career as a recording artist began in 1920, several years before the advent of electrical recordings, with a cylinder she cut for the Edison company, and then she spent the 1920s and part of the 1930s making dozens of records for both major and small labels, in addition to her appearances on highly popular radio shows such as the Firestone Radio Hour and the Columbia Phonograph Hour. De Leath's jazz-inflected singing style was often accompanied by studio bands that included fine jazz musicians like Red Nichols, Eddie Lang, and Dick McDonough, among others, and she was the featured vocalist with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra on at least two sides: "The Man I Love" and "Button Up Your Overcoat." In between her radio and recording activities, De Leath occasionally found time to appear on the Broadway stage, starring in the 1923 production of David Belasco and Tom Cushing's Laugh, Clown, Laugh. One of her biggest hits of the 1920s was the Hawaiian-styled song "Ukulele Lady," written by Richard Whiting and Gus Kahn, and following the success of this disc, she sang on a record of "Ukelele Lessons" released by Victor in 1925.
"Sometimes I'm Happy," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "I Must Have That Man," and "I Wanna Be Loved by You" (she even scats briefly on this last one). The two sides with Whiteman are also thankfully here, as is her fine rendition of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat classic "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Unfortunately, the compilers did not see fit to include De Leath's very popular reading of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" (yes, the same song that Elvis Presley made into a big hit in 1960) but even so, the CD makes for a very interesting trip back in time and is an excellent introduction to De Leath's exciting, peppy singing style that, as much as anything else, embodies the spirit of the Jazz Age.
Clipping from The Wireless Age, February 1923