Night Lights Classic Jazz

When Betty Met The Duke: Betty Roche

"Betty Roche was an unforgettable singer," Duke Ellington wrote of his former vocalist in 1973. "She never sounded like anybody but Betty Roche."

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  • Betty Roche Reveille With Beverly

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    Photo: Movie still.

    In late 1942 Betty Roche joined Duke Ellington's orchestra and made the first vocal recording of his theme song, "Take the A Train," for the wartime movie REVEILLE WITH BEVERLY.

  • Betty Roche Lightly and Politely

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    Photo: Album cover art

    After leaving Ellington in the early 1950s Betty Roche made several albums under her own name, including this one, LIGHTLY AND POLITELY.

  • Duke Ellington Uptown

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    Photo: Album cover art.

    In 1952 Roche recorded an epic version of "Take the A Train" with the Ellington orchestra.

  • Betty Roche Take the A Train

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    Photo: Album cover art.

    Roche's solo album for the Bethlehem label.

  • Betty Roche Singin' and Swingin'

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    Photo: Album cover art.

    Another one of Roche's solo albums.

Betty Roche was an unforgettable singer,” Duke Ellington wrote of his former vocalist in 1973. “She never sounded like anybody but Betty Roche.” Roche, the so-called “blues specialist” whom some consider to be one of the best vocalists Ellington ever had, replaced the popular Ivie Anderson in Ellington’s band in late 1942, just as the American Federation of Musicians ban on commercial recordings was about to take effect; it was the first of several bad breaks that gave her an undeserved low profile on records.

In this program we’ll hear nearly all of the live, transcription, and studio recordings that Roche did with Ellington, including her landmark performance of “The Blues” from Ellington’s famous January 1943 Black, Brown and Beige concert at Carnegie Hall; her 1952 scat-vocal interpretation of “Take the ‘A’ Train”, and broadcasts from the Hurricane nightclub in New York City. We’ll also hear Roche with Earl Hines and some Ellingtonians in 1944, as well as her post-Duke solo takes on “Rocks In My Bed” and “All Too Soon.”

As a bonus, watch this rare movie clip of Roche with the Ellington band–a spirited performance of “Take the A Train” from the film Reveille With Beverly, set on a passenger car, with backing vocals from members of the Ellington orchestra. This is one of the earliest versions of the song with lyrics, filmed in the late autumn of 1942 and pre-dating the singer’s much more famous take on “A Train” by nearly 10 years:

Music Heard On This Episode

Go Away Blues
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Duke Ellington & His Orchestra V. 2 (Circle, 1943)
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Go Away Blues
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Duke Ellington & His Orchestra V. 2 (Circle, 1943)

Notes: World Broadcasting transcription recording.

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Hayfoot, Strawfoot
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Live at the Hurricane (Storyville, 1943)

Notes: Radio broadcast.

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Brown (including
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Jan. 1943 Carnegie Hall Concert (Prestige, 1943)

Notes: Betty Roche performing

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I Don't Know What Kind of Blues I Got
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Live at the Hurricane (Storyville, 1943)

Notes: Radio broadcast.

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Tonight I Shall Sleep
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Hurricane Performances 1943 (n/a, 1943)

Notes: Radio broadcast.

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I Don't Want Anybody at All
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Duke Ellington & His Orchestra V. 2 (Circle, 1943)

Notes: World Broadcasting transcription recording.

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Body and Soul
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Comp. Duke Ellington 1947-52, V. 4 (Jazzotheque, 1952)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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I Wonder Why
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Way Low (LP) (Duke Records, 1943)

Notes: Live performance at Langley Field in Virginia, Dec. 1943

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Blues On My Weary Mind
Betty Roche/Earl Hines — Earl Hines & the Duke's Men (Delmark, 1944)

Notes: With Ray Nance and Johnny Hodges from the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

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All Too Soon
Betty Roche — Take the A Train (Bethlehem, 1956)

Notes: Duke Ellington composition.

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Rocks In My Bed
Betty Roche — Lightly & Politely (Prestige, 1961)

Notes: Duke Ellington composition.

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Take the
Betty Roche/Duke Ellington — Ellington Uptown (Columbia, 1952)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • carlton ratcliff

    I have tried to purchase Betty Roche’s vocal of “A Train” but wasn’t able to, Soooooooooooo

  • ELLINGton fan

    It's on a Duke E album called ” Duke Ellington uptown ” on Columbia Jazz

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