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Noon Edition

Voices That Time Forgot: Mavis Rivers and Toni Harper

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Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.

Singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday have gotten their fair share of time in the spotlight on this program, and for good reason. But what about some of the lesser-known singers of traditional pop music, the voices that time forgot. This week, I’m turning my spotlight onto two such singers whose output has been mostly reissued thanks to the record label Fresh Sound Records: Mavis Rivers and Toni Harper. Coming up, I’ll highlight some of their work in the 1950s and 60s with arrangers like Marty Paich and Nelson Riddle

It’s the Voices That Time Forgot: Mavis Rivers and Toni Harper, coming up next on Afterglow


<music - Mavis Rivers, “Saturday Night”>

<music - Toni Harper, “Saturday Night”>

Toni Harper in April 1960 with the Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne song “Saturday Night (Is The Loneliest Night Of The Week).” Before that, we heard the opening part of the same song sung by Mavis Rivers in January 1961. Both of those versions were arranged by Marty Paich, with many of the same players performing, including trumpeter Al Porcino, saxophonist Bud Shank, and drummer Mel Lewis.

The arrangements are not exactly the same, but clearly, Paich recycled a couple of ideas in Mavis Rivers’s later arrangement. That includes the song’s button, which ends with the same punctuated subito piano chord...


Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, I’m taking a look at two underrated and overlooked singers from the late 1950s and early 1960s, Toni Harper and Mavis Rivers. There’s no real reason to pair these two singers together. Harper was nearly a decade younger than Rivers, and grew up in Los Angeles, nearly 5000 miles away from Rivers, who was born in Samoa. But both singers got their start towards the end of the 1950s and flew right under the radar. Thanks to some recent reissues by the Fresh Sound Record label, I can give them the spotlight they deserve.

I’ll start with Toni Harper, who despite being younger, actually started her career earlier as a child singer. In 1947, when Harper was just ten years old, she performed at the Cavalcade of Jazz, a large outdoor jazz festival in Los Angeles that also included Woody Herman and Sarah Vaughan on the bill. Her child career was fairly successful, hitting its peak in 1948 with a big pop single called “Candy Store Blues,” before she fell out of the limelight at age 12. 

After a brief “retirement,” Toni Harper rejoined the world of entertainment at the ripe old age of 19, recording an album for Verve Records in 1956 titled Toni Harper Sings. The album featured veteran pianist Oscar Peterson accompanying.

Her voice still contains a childish lisp, but it’s aged with a deep and mature tone that makes her sound much older than a mere teenager.

Here are two songs from that album now. First, here’s Toni Harper in 1956 with “Can’t We Be Friends,” on Afterglow.

<music - Toni Harper, “Can’t We Be Friends”>

<music - Toni Harper, “Singin’ In The Rain”>

Toni Harper and the Oscar Peterson Quartet in 1956 from her self-titled Verve album Toni. Just now, we heard her with the Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown song “Singin’ In The Rain,” and before that, the Kay Swift and Paul James song “Can’t We Be Friends.”

Toni Harper recorded a few more sessions for Verve in the late 1950s, including a session with Dizzy Gillespie and a session with Buddy Bregman and his orchestra. But by 1959, she had moved over to the RCA Victor label to work with the marvelous arranger Marty Paich. Her first album for the label, Lady Lonely, is one of the strangest concept albums that I’ve ever encountered. 

Instead of relying on old classics from the Great American Songbook, Harper and her producer Richard Peirce go with new songs. But not just any new songs: student songs. Every song on the album was written by a student from a UCLA extension course taught by professor Hal Levy all about the art of songwriting. This was a natural outgrowth of the same 1950s DIY culture that spawned the “paint by numbers” boom. 

The songs on the album are clearly from the most talented songwriters of the bunch. A few names, like Paul Atkerson, Bert Stout, and Paul Miller, show up multiple times in different combinations. But as far as I can tell, none of these songs were recorded again by other artists. To be fair, though, even the best songwriters from the Great American Songbook had tunes that were recorded once and never saw the light of day again.

Here now are two songs from that album, beginning with the title track by Bert Stout and Paul Atkerson. This Toni Harper with “Lady Lonely,” on Afterglow.

<music - Toni Harper, “Lady Lonely”>

<music - Toni Harper, “My Heart Is A Lonely Hunter”>

Toni Harper with two songs from her album Lady Lonely, recorded in 1959. Just now we heard “My Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” written by Paul Miller, and before that “Lady Lonely,” written by Bert Stout and Paul Atkerson. Those songs were both products of a college extension course at UCLA that taught students the art of songwriting.

Toni Harper was able to breathe life into these songs by green composers with perfect intonation and clarity. But she was also helped tremendously by arranger Marty Paich. Paich was a West Coast Jazz arranger who worked with Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and others, and had a punchy, swinging sound that was always tasteful.

I’ll feature songs from one more album from Toni Harper and Marty Paich. This is from their 1960 album called Night Mood, which featured several ballads with strings and woodwinds, and several upbeat numbers punctuated by brass and percussion.

I’ll start with a ballad. This is Toni Harper and Marty Paich and his orchestra with the Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill song “My Ship,” on Afterglow.

<music - Toni Harper, “My Ship”>

<music - Toni Harper, “Paradise”>

Singer Toni Harper, with the Nacio Herb Brown and Gordon Clifford tune “Paradise,” and before that, the Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill tune “My Ship.” Both of those songs come from her 1960 album Night Mood, arranged by Marty Paich

Coming up after the break, we’ll hear from another voice that time forgot, Mavis Rivers. Stay with us.

<music - Marty Paich, “Jump For Me”>

Production support for Afterglow comes from Soma Coffee House and Juice bar, specializing in juices, espressos and Fair Trade Organic Coffee. Serving from downtown at Kirkwood and Grant and on the corner of third and Jordan. Online at I Heart Soma dot com

And from Stephen R Miller C P A, in downtown Bloomington at Graham Plaza, offering personal and small business income tax preparation and financial reporting. Helping clients reach financial goals for over thirty years. 8-1-2 - 3-3-2 - 0-5-5-7

I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow


<music - Marty Paich, “Just In Time” (The Broadway Bit)>


Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring some forgotten singers this hour. We had just looked at singer Toni Harper, whose career flourished in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and now I want to turn my attention to Mavis Rivers, who also recorded around that same time.

Mavis Rivers has one of the most unique backgrounds of an American singer. For one, she’s not really American. She was born on an island in Samoa to a multi-ethnic Morman family in 1929, where she discovered Ella Fitzgerald on the radios of the U.S. troops stationed there. Her family moved to New Zealand, where Rivers started singing professionally, and then she moved to the states to start a career first in Utah. After dealing with visa issues for a few years, she finally settled down in Los Angeles, where she got married, started a family, and started making a name for herself as a singer both in L.A. and in the nightclubs of Vegas.

By 1958, she was signed to Capitol Records and recorded her first album with arranger Nelson Riddle. The album was a quirky concept album called Take A Number, featuring twelve songs each about a different number in order from one to twelve. Some songs like “Three Coins In The Fountain” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn or “Dinner At Eight” by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields were established standards. But other songs like “Four A.M.” or “Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga” were less popular.

Here’s the ninth track from that album now. This is Mavis Rivers with the Harry Warren and Al Dubin song “About A Quarter To Nine,” on Afterglow.

<music - Mavis Rivers, “About a Quarter to Nine”>

The ninth song from the album Take A Number, by Mavis Rivers and arranger Nelson Riddle, an album that features a song for every number one to twelve. That was “About A Quarter To Nine” written by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

On the strength of this debut album, Mavis Rivers earned a Grammy nomination in 1959 for the best new artist, losing out to Bobby Darin. Her follow-up to this album came a few months later, an album of all love songs called Hooray For Love. Jack Marshall, who was best known for working with Peggy Lee as well as writing The Munsters theme song, wrote all the arrangements. Despite a big marketing push from Capitol Records, the album never really caught on, despite being chock full of solid, swinging performances.

Here’s Mavis Rivers from her album Hooray For Love, with the Lerner and Loewe song “Almost Like Being In Love,” on Afterglow.

<music - Mavis Rivers, “Almost Like Being In Love”>

Mavis Rivers from her 1960 album Hooray For Love with the song “Almost Like Being In Love.”

Mavis Rivers’s third and final album for Capitol Records was also a concept album. But instead of songs about numbers, or songs about love, as in her first two albums, this album featured songs all about home life. It was called Mavis Rivers Sings About The Simple Life, and featured mostly songs about comfort or home, like Walter Donaldson’s “At Sundown” or Harry Ruby and Rube Bloom’s “Give Me The Simple Life.” Rivers was married with a kid before she started her career, so Capitol tried to market her using this angle of “the housewife sings.”

I’ll play a song from the album that doesn’t quite fit into the theme, but does offer some advice for sparking a fire in a long-term relationship. Here is Mavis Rivers in 1960 with “Try A Little Tenderness,” on Afterglow.

<music - Mavis Rivers, “Try A Little Tenderness”>

“Try A Little Tenderness,” written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry Woods in 1932, sung by Mavis Rivers with Dick Reynold’s orchestra in 1960 from the Capitol album Mavis Rivers Sings About The Simple Life.

Shortly after the album, Mavis Rivers moved from Capitol to the recently formed Reprise label, owned by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was a fan of Rivers’s voice and her live act—plus he was also in an ongoing feud with Capitol Records, so he was likely happy to steal an artist from his former label. On her debut album with Reprise, Rivers teamed up with arranger Marty Paich, whose creative and swinging style captured the best of Rivers’s jazz chops. 

Here are two songs from their album together, simply titled Mavis, beginning with Cole Porter’s “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To,” on Afterglow.

<music - Mavis Rivers, “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To”>

<music - Mavis Rivers, “A Sleepin’ Bee”>

Mavis Rivers and arranger Marty Paich in 1961 with the Harold Arlen and Truman Capote song “A Sleepin’ Bee,” and the Cole Porter song “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.”

Mavis Rivers’s next album for Reprise, called Swing Along With Mavis, partnered her up with Ella Fitzgerald’s former arranger Van Alexander. Given how often people compared her to Fitzgerald, it seemed like a perfect pair. Rivers and Fitzgerald both had an excellent sense of swing. But what sets Mavis Rivers apart is her use of vibrato, which she can control almost like a tremolo, even more effectively than Ella. You can hear her use it to dramatic effect on the longer notes in this next song.

Here’s a swinging track from that album now. This is Mavis Rivers in 1961 with the Duke Ellington song “Love You Madly,” on Afterglow.

<music - Mavis Rivers, “Love You Madly”>

Mavis Rivers from her 1961 Reprise album called Swing Along With Mavis with the Duke Ellington song “Love You Madly.”

I’ll play one more song this hour, and this comes from Mavis Rivers’s final album for Reprise Records from 1962. The album Mavis Meets Shorty teams her up with a fellow West Coast jazz star, flugelhorn player Shorty Rogers, to create progressively swinging album that could rival any of the great West Coast jazz albums from this era. After this album, Rivers, like our other voice that time forgot this hour, Toni Harper both fell out of the spotlight almost entirely.

To close off this show, we remember Mavis Rivers with this song “I Remember You,” on Afterglow.

<music - Mavis Rivers, “I Remember You”>

Mavis Rivers and flugelhorn player Shorty Rogers in 1962 with the Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger song “I Remember You.”

And thanks for remembering some voices that time forgot, Mavis Rivers and Toni Harper, on Afterglow.


Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.

Production support for Afterglow comes from Soma Coffee House and Juice bar, specializing in juices, espressos and Fair Trade Organic Coffee. Serving from downtown at Kirkwood and Grant and on the corner of third and Jordan. Online at I Heart Soma dot com

And from Stephen R Miller C P A, in downtown Bloomington at Graham Plaza, offering personal and small business income tax preparation and financial reporting. Helping clients reach financial goals for over thirty years. 8-1-2 - 3-3-2 - 0-5-5-7

Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.

I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow

Mavis Rivers and Toni Harper

Mavis Rivers, from the cover of her 1959 album "Take A Number," and Toni Harper, from the cover of her 1956 album "Toni." (Album Covers)

Singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday have gotten their fair share of time in the spotlight on this program, and for good reason. But what about some of the lesser-known singers of traditional pop music, the voices that time forgot. This week, I’m turning my spotlight onto two such singers whose output has been mostly reissued thanks to the record label Fresh Sound Records: Mavis Rivers and Toni Harper. In this episode, I’ll highlight some of their work in the 1950s and 60s with arrangers like Marty Paich and Nelson Riddle.


Mavis Rivers: The Samoan Songstress

Mavis Rivers has one of the most unique backgrounds of an American singer. For one, she’s not really American. She was born on an island in Samoa to a multi-ethnic Morman family in 1929, where she discovered Ella Fitzgerald on the radios of the U.S. troops stationed there.

Her family moved to New Zealand, where Rivers started singing professionally, and then she moved to the states to start a career first in Utah. After dealing with visa issues for a few years, she finally settled down in Los Angeles, where she got married, started a family, and started making a name for herself as a singer both in L.A. and in the nightclubs of Vegas.

By 1958, she was signed to Capitol Records and recorded her first album with arranger Nelson Riddle. The album was a quirky concept album called Take A Number, featuring twelve songs each about a different number in order from one to twelve. Some songs like “Three Coins In The Fountain” by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, “Dinner At Eight” by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, or "About a Quarter to Nine" by Harry Warren and Al Dubin were established standards. But other songs like “Four A.M.” or “Six Lessons from Madame La Zonga” were less popular.

On the strength of this debut album, Mavis Rivers earned a Grammy nomination in 1959 for the best new artist, losing out to Bobby Darin. Her follow-up to this album came a few months later, an album of all love songs called Hooray For Love. Jack Marshall, who was best known for working with Peggy Lee as well as writing The Munsters theme song, wrote all the arrangements. Despite a big marketing push from Capitol Records, and being chock full of solidly swinging performances, the album never really caught on.

Mavis Rivers’s third and final album for Capitol Records was also a concept album. But instead of songs about numbers, or songs about love, as in her first two albums, this album featured songs all about home life. It was called Mavis Rivers Sings About The Simple Life, and featured mostly songs about comfort or home, like Walter Donaldson’s “At Sundown” or Harry Ruby and Rube Bloom’s “Give Me The Simple Life.” Rivers was married with a kid before she started her career, so Capitol tried to market her using this angle of “the housewife sings.”

Shortly after the album, Mavis Rivers moved from Capitol to the recently formed Reprise label, owned by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was a fan of Rivers’s voice and her live act—plus he was also in an ongoing feud with Capitol Records, so he was likely happy to steal an artist from his former label. On her debut album with Reprise, Rivers teamed up with arranger Marty Paich, whose creative and swinging style captured the best of Rivers’s jazz chops on songs like “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” and “A Sleepin’ Bee.”

Mavis Rivers’s next album for Reprise, called Swing Along With Mavis, partnered her up with Ella Fitzgerald’s former arranger Van Alexander. Given how often people compared her to Fitzgerald, it seemed like a perfect pair. Rivers and Fitzgerald both had an excellent sense of swing. But what sets Mavis Rivers apart is her use of vibrato, which she can control almost like a tremolo, even more effectively than Ella. You can hear her use it to dramatic effect on the longer notes of the Duke Ellington song “Love You Madly.”

Mavis Rivers’s final album for Reprise Records came in 1962. The album Mavis Meets Shorty teamed her up with a fellow West Coast jazz star, flugelhorn player Shorty Rogers, to create progressively swinging album that could rival any of the great West Coast jazz albums from this era. After this album, Rivers, like our other "voice that time forgot," Toni Harper both fell out of the spotlight almost entirely.

Toni Harper: Former Child Star

Toni Harper, despite being younger than Mavis Rivers, actually started her career earlier as a child singer. In 1947, when Harper was just ten years old, she performed at the "Cavalcade of Jazz," a large outdoor jazz festival in Los Angeles that also included Woody Herman and Sarah Vaughan on the bill. Her child career was fairly successful, hitting its peak in 1948 with a big pop single called “Candy Store Blues,” before she fell out of the limelight at age 12. 

After a brief “retirement,” Toni Harper rejoined the world of entertainment at the ripe old age of 19, recording an album for Verve Records in 1956 titled Toni Harper Sings. The album featured veteran pianist Oscar Peterson accompanying. On songs like “Can’t We Be Friends,” her voice still contains a childish lisp, but it’s aged with a deep and mature tone that makes her sound much older than a mere teenager.

Toni Harper recorded a few more sessions for Verve in the late 1950s, including a session with Dizzy Gillespie and a session with Buddy Bregman and his orchestra. But by 1959, she had moved over to the RCA Victor label to work with the marvelous arranger Marty Paich (who was also working with Mavis Rivers around the same time). Her first album for the label, Lady Lonely, is one of the strangest concept albums that I’ve ever encountered. 

Instead of relying on old classics from the Great American Songbook, Harper and her producer Richard Peirce go with new songs. But not just any new songs: student songs. Every song on the album was written by a student from a UCLA extension course taught by professor Hal Levy all about the art of songwriting. This was a natural outgrowth of the same 1950s DIY culture that spawned the “paint by numbers” boom. 

The songs on the album are clearly from the most talented songwriters of the bunch. A few names, like Paul Atkerson, Bert Stout, and Paul Miller, show up multiple times in different combinations. But as far as I can tell, none of these songs were recorded again by other artists. To be fair, though, even the best songwriters from the Great American Songbook had tunes that were recorded once and never saw the light of day again.

Toni Harper was able to breathe life into these songs by green composers with perfect intonation and clarity. But she was also helped tremendously by arranger Marty Paich. Paich was a West Coast Jazz arranger who worked with Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and others, and had a punchy, swinging sound that was always tasteful. On their 1960 album called Night Mood, they include several ballads with strings and woodwinds and several upbeat numbers punctuated by brass and percussion.

Toni Harper retired from the music industry in 1966 before she turned 30 years old.

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