Bette Anne Steele Bio:
   F. Scott Fitzgerald once opined “There are no second acts in American lives…” Well, once again that quote is being debunked, this time by Bette Anne Steele. To put it simply, she is back for yet another act - at 72!
   Bette Anne Steele realized early on what she wanted to do in life…that was to sing. She grew up poor as an only child in Richmond VA during the depression - a time when there was not much to sing about. To her, music offered an escape and she began to dream of being a star someday.
   She remembers the first song she learned to sing was Ella Fitzgerald’s “A Tisket a Tasket” when she was only three years old. At night she recalls listening to the radio, hearing the likes of Ella and Billie Holiday, dreaming that she too would sing like them some day.
   She began her professional singing career on the radio at the ripe old age of five - when she was a regular on Harvey Hudson’s show on WRVA in Richmond. She loved being on the radio and entertaining people.
During her high school years she won honors such as “Radio Queen of Virginia” and honed her skills as a singer, entertaining people at places such as the Tantilla Club in Richmond. She recalls one of the highlights of her life came in 1952 when she got to interview Frank Sinatra on WRVA while he was in Richmond promoting his latest record.
   Her big break came with landing a solo vocalist slot with the Buddy Morrow Orchestra in 1954. She went on the road with them and toured the U.S. and Mexico with them for nearly a year paying her dues. She recalls that it was a “great experience - but a grueling one at that”. After the tour, she decided that life on the road was not for her after all. She yearned to settle down and start a family, so in 1955 she left the Buddy Morrow Orchestra to do just that.
   She had no plans on giving up her singing career though and she decided to move to New York City and pursue a career as a solo artist. It wasn’t long before RCA records came knocking at her door and offered her a recording contract. Among the songs she recorded was “Suppertime”, a song made famous by Ethel Waters. Her old friend Buddy Morrow conducted the orchestra at the sessions.
   After RCA, she moved to Capitol Records where she recorded such songs as “Give Me A Little Kiss” and “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean” plus six other tunes.
   
After her stint at Capitol and still looking for her niche, ABC Paramount beckoned in 1956 with an opportunity to record what they felt was “A sure number one hit”. The song was “Mr. Wonderful”. Few know that she was the first vocalist to be given the song to record. Recorded with the great Don Costa at the helm, the record had potential. In fact, it was the “ #1 pick ” by Billboard Magazine.
At that time though, she had just given birth to her first child and it was determined that she would not able to meet the promotional obligations for the record. She recalls that ABC had “promised to give her exclusivity” on the song but they did not keep their promise and within a few weeks, both Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughn released versions of the song. Since Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughn were both major stars at the time, their covers of “Mr. Wonderful” garnered all the attention and went on to become major hits for them. Even though both singers were idols of Bette Anne’s, it didn’t lessen her disappointment and heartache. All was not lost though, the B side, “Never Do A Tango With An Eskimo” went on to become a hit in Japan.
  To make matters worse, the music scene had changed dramatically in 1956 with the arrival of Rock and Roll. In general, the music industry was now geared towards Rock 'n' Roll, not the big bands, not her kind of music.
By the mid to late fifties, the big band era was all but gone. Many musicians and singers of that era were left scratching their heads and wondering what to do next. Bette Anne was one of them.
   Around 1957, she was picked up by Canadian American Records. The new label wanted her to record more “marketable” and “youth oriented” tunes. To be sure, she liked some of the “new” rock and pop music going on at the time but she had always considered herself a big band and jazz vocalist first and foremost. She said that she never really felt comfortable performing some of the songs she was given to record while with Canadian American. Not that she didn’t like the music, she just felt a little out of place. Canadian also encouraged her to take a stage name as part of her “reinvention” process. The name she chose was Betsy Brye, a name inspired by her daughter Susan Bryant “Brye”.
   Some of her best material was recorded around this time. Her haunting cover of Santo and Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” being one of the stand-outs. She was the first to record a vocal version of this tune, and it charted in the summer of 1959.
During 1959 she continued on in New York and performed on Allen Freed’s TV and radio shows. She also performed at a couple of concerts he organized and produced that year at Brooklyn’s famous Fox Theater, sharing the stage with the likes of Sam Cook, Leslie Uggams, Bo Didley and Jackie Wilson.
She continued recording and performing on occasion into the early sixties. Some of the highlights of this period were appearances with Johnny Carson and Andy Williams.
   By the 1961, she had finally had enough and decided to retire from recording, get out of the showbiz rat race, and focus on raising a family. Over the years she would continue to perform here and there but these performances were few and far between.
   Many have commented “If she had only been born ten years earlier she would have made it big…”. As they say in show biz though, “Timing is everything” and it just wasn’t meant to be…
   Many here in Richmond VA have not forgotten her though. Now in 2005 she is back singing again on a semi-regular basis around Richmond - performing some of her favorite traditional jazz standards to enthusiastic audiences with the Russell Wilson Trio and loving every minute of it.
   She also went back in the studio for the first time in years. In the fall of 2004 she cut a five song CD featuring some of her traditional jazz favorites.
   She has never lost the love and thrill of entertaining and singing her favorite songs to a receptive and appreciative audience. She plans to continue to entertain, delight, and give us a smile for many years to come…
   “Never give up and keep reaching for tomorrow” she likes to say.
        - Scott Richards, Summer 2005

Feel free to visit these websites and sources of information:
A Singer's Apartment | Living Quarters | Apartments Houston Tx | Houses and Inns
Temporary Living Space |Texas Living
Notes:
   Sleepwalk can be heard on NPR’s website. Simply go to their website and click on “Sleepwalk vocal version by Betsy Brye”. http://www.npr.org/programs/asc/archives/asc13/#santo
   “Sleepwalk” is also available on a compilation CD featuring other period artists on Mavis records. To purchase, go to Amazon or Continental and order “Hey look what I found Vol. 5”.
   “A Penny’s Worth Of Music” is also featured on “Face of the Unknown Princess” a compilation of obscure recordings by obscure and not so obscure female pop vocalists circa 1955 - 1965 at Sort of Records.
   For more information or to purchase Bette Anne’s CD with the Bob Alberti Trio, please contact Scott Richards at: scotter5001@aol.com.
back - menu - back to Sort Of catalog - top