Monday, November 06, 2017

Radio's Sweetheart Mildred Hunt

I often start these biographical excursions with a "best remembered for..." Alas, Mildred is hardly remembered at all. She has no biography that I'm aware of. What makes her more interesting as a historical figure is her nascent feminism. In the March 27th, 1930 issue of the Nazareth Item newspaper, in an un-credited article Hunt promotes the gender equality of broadcasting. In an article titled "Real Equality of Sexes Found in Radio Fields" she is quoted as saying
"In other professions men had a head-start, while woman were still in the kitchen or engaged in such ladylike jobs as teaching... in radio we started with an equal chance. The result is that today there are as many successful women radio singers and executives as men. And they've won their success without the aid of sex appeal, too."
The book Radio Round-ups: Intimate Glimpses of the Radio Stars, by Joseph Gurman and Myron Slager included the short bio:
"Mildred Hunt, known as the 'Crooning Contralto' ran away from boarding school at Wyoming Academy in Kingston, Pennsylvania to get into the Zeigfeld chorus. Her ability to sing was not recognized until Paul Whiteman urged her to study singing and go into radio. She cultivated her voice and followed his orders..."
It's a little patronizing, but at least she is a "star" by context and anyway that's all there is. The book Moanin' Low: A Discography of Female Popular Vocal Recordings by Ross Laird refers to Mildred as a comedienne on two tracks, and lists two cuts on Filmophone, the sound track company.

 Whiteman's involvement in her career makes sense in that Mildred would later sing with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1927 on their Victor recording "A Shady Tree."  In May of 1929 she cut two more sides for Victor "Honey" and "My Dear." Phonograph Monthly Review called the recordings "intimate" and "extremely sentimental." It may sound like an insult today, but it was totally appropriate for the pop sensibilities of the day. Her song "Ho Hum" released by Decca in 1931 was described by The Gramophone as just "pleasing." That might have been an intended as faint praise.  But a 1928 Courier-News article praised her a contralto voice and noted that she sings with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra on the Eveready Hour. She was on the rise.

That year was probably near the peak of her career. A 1929 NBC press photo describes her as a "ballad singer" appearing as a soloist on a program by Roxy and his gang. Roxy is Samuel Rothafel, who began broadcasting in November of 1922. Through 1925, he broadcast his weekly variety show Roxy and His Gang live from the Capitol Theatre in New York. After that, The Roxy Hour was broadcast from the new Roxy Theatre on the NBC Blue network from 1927 to 1932. (Mondays at 7:30 PM) Her headshot further notes that the program is carried on WBZ, WJZ, WBZA, WBAL, WHAM, KDKA, KYW, KWK, WREN, WJR, KPRC, KOA, WHO, WRC, WOW, KVOO, WFAA, WSM, WSB, and WBT.

The same year she sang two songs in nightclub scenes in the film "Mother's Boy."  She also sang the theme "Redskin" for the 1929 film Red Skin, with the Ben Selvin Orchestra. She would cut some sides for Perfect Records in March of 1931 with top billing. All of her recordings together would barely make an LP today. DAHR (Discography of American Historical Recordings) has a decent listing here, but it excludes her Perfect records sessions. Honking Duck has one as well here. Then her media references stop abruptly in 1932 with a little sheet music. Her radio career appears to have abruptly faded away.