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Mary Bobo: .June 12, 1979 and I’m talking with Miss Helen Humes. Miss Humes was born in Louisville, Kentucky and presently resides in New York City, but claims that Louisville is still home. Her parents were John Henry and Emma Humes. Miss Humes, could we just begin by you telling me a little bit about your parents? I know that they meant so much to you and you came and took care of them for several years right in the middle of your career.

Helen Humes: They meant everything to me. It was always so nice and pleasant at home. My mother and father, no arguments, no nothing, just. . . . Well my father was an attorney and then he went into real estate and Mama and I were home together most of the time. We’d always find something to do. When I was real 1:00little, in the wintertime we’d sit there and we’d pop corn and make popcorn balls and we’d go out and get us some walnuts and crack them. We were always just doing something. Making candy and everything. It was just so pleasant and special to me.

MB: You were an only child?

HH: Yes. I had a brother, a half brother, but he stayed with my grandmother. He came to Louisville in later years after, well, I was grown by then. All of my life it’s just been my mother, father and I. It was just happy times.

MB: Well tell me about your father. I believe that you mentioned he did attend 2:00Simmons, or State University. That’s where he received his degree?

HH: Yes, that’s where he received his degree as a lawyer.

MB: Did he have other partners or did he work alone?

HH: No, he just had his office alone, and then he did have a partner later. He had the lawyer Henderson, and lawyer Henderson is still here. There was another lawyer that he used to associate with, I think his name was lawyer Bonner. That name kind of comes back. He used to do a lot of business with the white lawyers, they used to do a lot of things together because I guess he was one of the first 3:00negro attorneys here.

MB: Do you still have any of his papers and things?

HH: I have some things out there in a trunk. I haven’t been through anything. I just haven’t had the strength I guess. It’s been hard for me being back home this long without them being here. They had to take me to the hospital the other day and the doctor said “Well, there’s nothing wrong, your pressure and your blood and everything seems alright.” He says, “Are you under any kind of pressure?” And I told him, “No.” He said, “Do you have family?” I said “Well, maybe that’s the pressure I’m under,” I said, “because this is the first time 4:00I’ve been home this long and have been able to go home and have my mother and father there and we’d just have fun.” There was always something going on. All the boys would be out to dinner. . .

[Phone rings – recorder off and back on]

MB: We’re continuing again. We’re talking about your home life.

HH: Yeah, well, you know, I just miss it. Like, when the boys would come to town, when I would come to town with the band or something, well then, Mama would just fix all this food, and Papa he would sit up the bar and we would just have a good time.

MB: They just really enjoyed your vocation with you then, didn’t they?

HH: They certainly did. When we’d play places close around, they were always 5:00there. They’d come and bring us some goodies. You know, the boys got so they’d be looking forward to them coming around as much as I did. They knew they were going to bring something good, and when you’re on the road like that you just feel good when somebody’s thinking of you and they come and bring you nice little things.

MB: Well your mother and father must have realized from a very early age that you had this unusual talent. I know that you started singing professionally as young as fifteen, but when did you. . . Can you even remember about that?

HH: I’ve been singing, it seems like I’ve been singing all my life. We lived next door to the church and I was singing in church, in the Sunday school. When they’d have little plays I would sing.

MB: So you always enjoyed being up in front of people.


HH: In front of people for a long time, but every time I get up I’m scared. I’m really frightened every time I make an entrance. After I get out there, well then I feel differently.

MB: Do you wonder how people will receive you each time?

HH: Yes, yes. People say, “Oh Helen, you got to be kidding.” I say, “But I’m not kidding, I don’t have to kid.” Every time I go onstage I am frightened. Then after I get out there, well then I’m alright.

MB: I guess in reading accounts of your life I was particularly impressed with how early you did start singing and making records.

HH: Well, I was surprised at that too, you know. We were used to -- Miss Bess 7:00Allen, a lady that used to have an orphans home, and on Sunday, there at 9th and Magazine, she would have a Sunday school for all the kids that wanted to come to evening Sunday school. Then if you attended her Sunday school and you wanted to play an instrument, she had a fellow that would teach you to play whatever instrument you wanted to play. That’s why so many of our boys got their start, was from Miss Bess Allen’s Sunday school. She used to have a marching band and we’d go around and play little, you know, where they’d have all the little things down in the country and all. The bands marching, parades and things. After the parades then they would have a little dance and that’s where I played the piano. I used to play the piano and sing for myself, plus I had taught myself to sing.


I was doing that and this man, Sylvester Weaver, he heard me sing. He called New York to Mr. Rockwell and had him come. He brought him out to my home. He told my mother this man had a record company and he wanted to hear me sing. So, I played and sang for him. Then he asked my mother if she would bring me to St. Louis, so I could record for his company. She said alright. Then I made that record session. A little while later he wanted me to come to New York and make another session. I went with Mr. and Mrs. Weaver then. I went there and I made this 9:00second session. Then when I came on back home, Mr. Rockwell called my mother and asked her if I could go on the road. My mother told him no, I was in school and when I finished school then that would be another story. I could decide what I wanted to do then. So, I never did start out on that T.O.B.A. circuit. [Laughs.]

MB: You were at Central High School?

HH: Yes.

MB: We were talking about friends a few minutes ago, and some of the friends you still keep up with are these classmates from back at Central?

HH: Yeah. Well I had one very dear friend when, you know, right after I lost my 10:00mother then my father took sick. I accidentally got this job out there at the munitions plant, you know? I took some other ladies and they said, “Oh come on Helen, go on in there and put in an application ‘cause they pay good money here.” I said, “Well, I don’t know a thing about nothing they’re doing out here.” She said, “Oh, they’ll teach you.” I went out there and I got the job and the ladies that I took, they didn’t. I said, “Now what am I going to do?” So, this very dear friend of mine, her name was Elizabeth Sharp, she said, “Well now Helen, if you want to go to work out there to the bag plant, they used to call it, if you want to go to work out there, well I’ll stay here and look after Papa.” I said. “Oh, Elizabeth.” She had her own home and she had roomers at her 11:00home, but she didn’t have to be there to look after them because they were all grown, you know. So I said, “Well if it won’t put you out too much, maybe I’ll try it for a week and see how it works out.” She said, “Well go on then, just stay as long as you want to, because I’ll look after Papa, you know I’ll take good care of him.” I said Okay. So I went on and she looked after my father, she kept him nice and clean and she cooked for him. Papa was looking real good. I was so glad that she was there cooking ‘cause she was such a good cook. So I didn’t have that to do, she kept everything nice and clean. She was just really there when I just needed a friend. Then I had other neighbors they would come in 12:00and see how Papa was doing and everything. And so, it was just nice.

MB: How did you adjust to working at the munitions plant though, after you had already started a career and you were used to people recognizing you?

HH: Well, when my mother passed, I said I wasn’t going to sing anymore. I just didn’t have, I don’t know, I just didn’t feel it. So I said, “Well, I’ll just stay here and I’ll just look after Papa.” And that’s what I was doing. And then this lady came and asked me to take her over there to the bag plant and put in an application, then I put in one. Everybody said, “Oh, don’t pay Helen no mind. She’s going over there, and she’ll work, but she has never done nothing like that, she don’t know nothing about that. She might stay there a week, maybe two weeks, I think they get paid every two weeks, she might stay there until then.” And I said, “Well, I’m going to fool them.” I stayed there a year and eleven 13:00months, until they laid us off, because if you would quit you wouldn’t get your unemployment and things. But I sure felt like quitting a lot of times. I was so glad when they finally. . . . I guess we were about the fourth or fifth group that they, before they really laid us off.

MB: But you didn’t go back into singing right after that. You still went back home, didn’t you?

HH: Yes.

MB: You seem to have to keep coming back and touching base to need to feel these roots. Is this part of it?

HH: Well I guess so because I know after I got laid off, then after a while my 14:00father got so that I couldn’t keep him at home and we took him up here to this hospital on Jefferson. I can’t think of the name of it right now. At night, or sometimes, he’d fall out of bed. I’d hear something go boom, look up, poor Papa done fell out of the bed and then I’d have to, I’d say, “Papa, now be still,” ‘cause I couldn’t lift him. I could just sit him up but I just couldn’t. . . . I’d go next door and get my neighbor to come and help me. He would do that a couple of times and the doctor said, “I’m going to put him in this nursing home.” It was kind of like a hospital.

MB: A medical center?

HH: Yes, it was a medical center. I put him there. But I would go up everyday. I 15:00would stay there until I put him to bed at night, and then I would leave. When I got a chance to, in ’73, Stanley Dance came here to Louisville and he came out to the house and he said, “Now Helen you’ve just got to come and sing, we’re doing this Basie reunion and you’ve got to be on it. I said, “Well I can’t sing no more Stanley, I haven’t been singing.” He said, “Yes you can, now you can sing.” I said, “Well I don’t know. Where’s it going to be?” He said, “It’s going be at Carnegie Hall.” I said, “Well Carnegie Hall’s too big to be trying to sing in, you have to know what you’re doing when you go there.” So, he said, “Well that’s alright, you just come on, you’ll be alright.” So I went on.


I got this girl, another girl, who was so wonderful, Bernice Lavonne. She came and stayed with Papa. She would come to the hospital everyday and she’d stay there and put him to bed every night. She was just so sweet to him. I was so, well, I would relax because I knew that he was well looked after. I don’t know, the nurses and things, they were all lovely to him there, but they had so many patients until they just can’t look after everybody the way they should be looked after. So, I went on to New York and I did the Basie reunion. Five days later I was in France and I did four or five concerts and then I made my first album over there. Then I came on back home. I went home, stayed there with Papa. 17:00They sent for me again in ’74, and I went back again. I had my own concert tour then. I was there for around four or five weeks, something like that. Anyway, I made another album, and I made this nice tour all over. Then I came on back home. Then at the end of ’74, Mr. Josephson called me. Barney Josephson that has the Cookery in New York. He called me and wanted me to come there and do this 18:00party. They used to have a New Years Eve party there every year, and he wanted me to come. I said, “Well if I can get Bernice to come and stay with Papa, I’ll come.” So I went to the hospital and I said, “Papa, Mr. Josephson called me, he wants me to come to New York and sing at his club over the holidays.” He said, “New York?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well are you going?” I said, “Well, that’s what I want to talk to you about. Now if you think you’ll be alright. I’ll go because Bernice is going to stay here with you.” He said, “Oh New York, Oh, go on, sure I’ll be alright. You go on ‘cause my baby can sing. My baby can really sing.” I said, “Well, okay then, I’ll go.” I went on and while I was gone he 19:00died. I said well, I’ll just keep on singing as long as I can.

MB: Well they undoubtedly took such pride, as we mentioned earlier, in your talent.

HH: Oh yes.

MB: I think this is a memorial to them, really, to continue. But I guess what interests me is how you can sort of stop and start -- did you, like during this five years that you were here, did you sing with the church choir or anything during those years you were taking care of your father?

HH: I didn’t do nothing but just stay there and at night time when I would put him to bed at the hospital, some nights I would go to bingo. That was my relaxation, I’d go to bingo. And I love bingo now.

MB: Well are you lucky with it?

HH: Well sometimes, yes. Can’t win every time, so I don’t expect that. I just 20:00enjoy playing because I don’t have to, you know, I can just go somewhere and get in a corner and sit there, and I don’t have to talk and I don’t have to be all dressed up, you know, and everything.

MB: Just be yourself.

HH: Yeah. I can just relax and I love it.

MB: Well, that’s great. Is there much bingo going on in Louisville right now?

HH: Oh, this is bingo country, my goodness. I wish it was going on as good other places as it is here, ‘cause they have nice big games here. And about, now as long as I’ve been in New York, about six weeks ago, I discovered a bingo kind of close to me, and you go there and the little old games are $200. You know, they don’t allow you to give away but $1000 for all the games and everything. But 21:00here, you can give away as much as you want.

MB: As much as you can win, right?

HH: Yeah.

MB: Well let’s talk just for a few minutes about your other life in New York. Do you have an apartment there that you keep all the time?

HH: Well I don’t have an apartment, per se, because I don’t want to be in the place by myself. But these are friends of mine that I’ve known for years. They were from Lexington and they have this apartment. One of the sisters lives downstairs and the other one lives upstairs, and I live with the sister that lives upstairs. Her daughter used to live there with her, but her daughter got married, so I have the daughter’s part. It’s nice, it’s just home, home base.

MB: So you operate completely out of this location? If you were going to go to Europe you could always come back there, you don’t stay in a hotel or anything.


HH: Yes. It’s like home. It’s comfortable and I’m just happy being around people I know.

MB: Right. Well do you have it set up so that you have any free time during the year? Do you maybe not work a couple months a year?

HH: Oh yeah. I do that a lot of times. ‘Cause I tell them, just like the first of the year I told my agents, now I don’t want to do nothing because I worked hard last year and I have, since I started working in March, I’ve been working hard now. But I enjoy it. I really enjoy it. I think it kind of keeps you going. I just, I enjoy singing. I’m happy when I’m singing. So, that just keeps me 23:00happy ‘cause I don’t want to get blue and sad, like that.

MB: Well I noticed several articles mentioned this thing about the happiness when you’re singing and how other people seem to be happy after they heard you.

HH: That really makes me feel so good. I’ve had people come up and say, “You know, [?] when we came in here we were just down in the dumps and now we just feel so happy.” I said, “Well that makes me feel happy too, knowing that I was able to just kind of bring you out a little bit.” And it really makes you feel good. Because when I’m singing, I’m happy. That’s the reason I don’t like to sing no real gut bucket blues, where you’re sad, and you’ve been drug through the mills and all. I like happy songs.

MB: Well you’ve had a good life though, haven’t you?

HH: Yes.

MB: You’ve been able to see some nice things, had people that have cared about 24:00you. Could you just mention some of the real highlights, just some of the high points or something? Just a couple of experiences that were so super?

HH: Well, I don’t know. I just can’t place one, ‘cause it seems like everything is just, I don’t know, I just meet such wonderful people and they, it seems like everybody just bends over backwards to just try to make me happy. Everybody wants me to come and visit and stay with them. “Helen you won’t have to do nothing. We’ll serve your meals in the bed.” I said “Nah, you know I don’t want 25:00that.” But you know people, like over in France and over in London and all around over there, so many people want me to just come and just vacation. “Well, Helen, come on, we’ll bring you over.” I said, “I don’t know, I could come over.” But I don’t, but I just don’t know.

MB: Well it has to be you, they have to enjoy being around you or they wouldn’t have this type of response. It’s such a credit to you.

HH: Yeah. It just makes me feel good because I just love people and I’m just happy when everybody around is happy.

MB: Well I noticed you also said you enjoyed seeing young children come to the [?].

HH: Oh yes. And I remember when I first went to New York. They had the [?] we 26:00were close to New York University and the teachers used to bring their classes down to hear me. The young people, they were getting into jazz. They’d say, “Miss Humes, where have you been?” I said, “I’ve been home.” “Well you should be here singing. Why did you leave?” So then I’d have to tell them why. I said, “But I hope I can just be around a little while now.” It’s all been so pleasant. When somebody asks you, you can never think of real outstanding things. But, I know when I first went to France, he was a music critic, he was the biggest man 27:00over there, Hugh [Benassiere?], he had the hot club of France. Every time I would come over there, well he would come everywhere, he and his madame, they would come everywhere I would play. He would say, “Helen, I just can’t understand it. You know, they’ve never cared too much for women singers, you know, they like them, but have they never seem to be carried away by anybody but you. It seems like they know everything you’re singing or they just, I don’t know, they get happy, they don’t want you to stop singing.” I said, “I don’t know what, I just hope they understand what I’m saying, ‘cause I can’t understand them.”


MB: Would you say that the French are among the most responsive people on the Continent, do they seem to respond to you?

HH: Yeah, everybody over there. The French, the Swedish people, everybody. I’d go to Holland, London, just wherever. Germany -- the first tour I ever made over there was Germany.

MB: Well when you go like this, do you do regular concerts more than you work out of any specific club or anything?

HH: Oh I haven’t done club work over there. I just go over and just do the concerts.

MB: Do you find in America that it’s easier for you to do club work or concerts, or a mixture?

HH: Well, I just usually do club work. Once in a while I do concerts, but mostly I do clubs.

MB: That way you do, you are more stationary, are you not?


HH: Yes. Because I wouldn’t do one-nighters every night anymore. Because all of us little girls we don’t want to be traveling somewhere different everyday.

MB: Wondering what city you’re in when you wake up the next morning. Our tape is about to run out on this side, I’m going to turn it over and stop for a second.



MB: We’re continuing talking with Helen Humes. We were discussing whether or not she spent more of her time with concerts or working in clubs. I was just curious as to what you did during the hours you’re not performing and you’re not sleeping, if you were in a strange place. How do you keep from getting lonesome or feeling away from home.

HH: Well, you brought up Denver, Colorado there, and that was one of the most 30:00pleasant places I’ve ever worked.

MB: It’s a beautiful area, isn’t it?

HH: It is a beautiful area. I was there for beautiful people: the Johns-Manville Company. The president at that time, I don’t think he’s president now, he came to New York and heard me. He wanted me to come to Denver and just do something there. So I did. It was just such a success. He would have me come maybe twice a year and they’d put me up in a nice big hotel, my boys and me. Pay our way, and pay us good. All of our suites would be set up with the bars and the kitchens 31:00and the dining room and living room. You talk about plush living. When we worked with Johns-Manville, that was it. And they were just so nice, the nicest people I think I’ve ever met.

MB: They make a real effort to see that you aren’t alone, but that you do get the rest [?].

HH: Yes, they have everything right there that you want. And then if you want to go somewhere you have a limousine at your service. If you want to go sightseeing or anything, you call, and they send for you and you go. It was just wonderful.

MB: Sounds like you could learn to enjoy this.

HH: Oh yes, I did love that.

MB: What are some of your favorite cities throughout the country?


HH: Well, let’s see. Denver was one. I love going down to Disney World. I worked down there. They’d give you a beautiful townhouse and a car, and you’d just have a good time. And then I like -- I worked the Hyatts. I love the one down in New Orleans. Everything is just so nice down there. I like the one in Phoenix. I’ve never been to this one here.

MB: I was going ask you if you had seen it.

HH: Uh Uh. I love working at the Hyatt houses, they’re so nice to you and everything.

MB: Maybe I should take out that little portion of tape and send it over.


HH: Yes. [Laughter.] That’s right. Well, now, I like San Francisco, and I love Los Angeles. I like New York because there’s always something happening there, you know, but I don’t like living right down in New York. I don’t care for that.

MB: Is your apartment that you’ve already described on Manhattan or is it. . . ?

HH: No, it’s out in Queens. Let me see, where else. Oh, I love Atlanta, Georgia. Oh, everywhere I go I like.

MB: I know someone had asked you about some of the young talents coming up and 34:00you said it was hard for you to keep up with all of the young ones. But, do you maybe have any particular people that you have taken an interest in and watched their careers that might be a little younger than you as they come through?

HH: Well, let me see. Nancy Wilson, she’s younger than I. She’s done pretty good. I don’t know. You know, I’ve always been a loner, as far as. . . now I’m in show business, but I’m not of show business. I don’t go around show people too much. Now Ella’s a very dear friend of mine, and Sarah Vaughn. Nellie 35:00Letcher, she stayed with me when I made that first trip back. She said, “Helen you’re just so nervous, I’m going to stay right here with you until you go on.” And she did. She stood right there. I said “Oh Nellie, I’m hoarse.” She went over across the street to the drug store and she got me a whole lot of stuff. She said. “Now here, now you use this.” Well all that came over. She said, “Now you see, you’re alright.” I said, “Okay then.” There’s a little, was it like Chi Chi Murphy, Rose Murphy, she was just always so shy and when I used to have my apartment in New York they would come and visit with me. They were the ones that would come and visit with me. We used to have Sundays, we would be all. . . . 36:00That’s a night when we would go around to the different clubs and see what’s happening. Let’s see, I guess that’s about all the people that I was close to.

MB: What you’re saying is you have a network of people who really care about you all over the country and in Europe. But they aren’t necessarily show business people themselves.

HH: No, no, no, they’re not. But they’re people that seem to enjoy what I’m doing and they just come all the time. I’ve felt very honored since I was here. Like our ex-mayor Sloane, he and his wife came to see me. The ex-mayor from 37:00Lexington, his family, they all came in from Lexington to see me. Oh, there’s just been. . . . The ex-president of WHAS, Mr. [Halstead?], he’s been over. I can’t remember all the people that’s been, that really made me feel good. I was so happy that they were here.

MB: Well you take it, it really is a personal honor when you look out and you see someone.

HH: Yeah, you know, and somebody will say, “Oh Helen, guess who’s here.” And I’ll say or they’ll say [?], then I get nervous again. Oh boy.

MB: Well I know that you have done benefits in Louisville area in the last several years. The Crusade [for Children] a couple years ago.


HH: The crusade. Oh that was so nice, I enjoyed that so much, I really did. And when you see the little babies come out, they’re trying to. . . . It just does something to you. I like that. Then I did a thing there on the Belvedere. Remember when they had the Louisville people that summer over there on the Belvedere?

MB: Yes.

HH: Well I was in that. I was in Toronto, I had to come from Toronto to here and then run on back to get to work the next night.

MB: The Belvedere is something that has been added since you lived here permanently. It seems to be something that’s tied the city together, given us a 39:00gathering place.

HH: Yes, it looks good, it looks nice. It’s really nice.

MB: Can you see some other positive things that are happening to Louisville?

HH: Well, it seems like they -- I wish they would bring Louisville back the way it used to be, where you could -- oh, they used to have so many places that you could go where you could hear any kind of music you wanted to hear. Everybody used to talk about, “Oh, you ought to go to Louisville, they’ve got everything going there.”

MB: What would you say would have been the cause of night spots declining?

HH: Well, they’ve torn down, they just tear down everything. And then, when they build it up, it seems like it’s just not the same or something. I don’t know what it is. But it just seems like...


MB: It’s more of a restaurant than night club.

HH: Yes. And I was so happy when this man called me, Stanley [Chase?] because it’s just so nice down there, and it’s a nice room. He specializes in the jazz musicians, and it’s really nice. I just feel honored to be asked to come back and open the room. He made it a larger room and I was happy to be in it.

MB: Well it seems that there are a few areas such as Washington Street, understand like Bluegrass bands and this type of performances have been going on, but I agree with you. It does seem in general we don’t seem to have people 41:00catering to live performances.

HH: Yes, well you know when disco came out, that slowed down some parts of it. But now that people are getting kind of tired of shaking. . . Sit down and relax now.

MB: Well I know, for example, the “Super Pops” we’ve had here with the Louisville Orchestra, the last several years, these have been very successful. Ella Fitzgerald, who you just mentioned. Sarah Vaughn. I had the pleasure of hearing them this past year. I know there’s an audience here for this, is what I’m saying, because they’re filling a tremendous space with people.

HH: Ella was on with Andre Previn and when I made my first album for 42:00Contemporary, Andre Previn was on it. He was my pianist. Then when I got ready to make the second album, well he, Mr. Candy, called me, and he said, “Helen, I just had a call from Andre Previn, and he told me to ask you, could he be on your second album?” I said, “Are you kidding?” Now that really made me feel good to think that he wanted to be on, because he wasn’t into jazz. But, he made the first one and he just enjoyed it so he wanted to be on the next one. I was so glad he did. I just thought he was, well he was, he is, the greatest.


MB: Has your path crossed very much with television? I know you’ve done scores for movies, whatever.

HH: No, I don’t -- well, I’ve done like the Today Show and the Morning Show.

MB: Tonight Show.

HH: No, I’ve never done the Tonight Show. When I was over in Nice last year, Johnny Carson was over there and I met him. I said, “Well now, when am I going to be on your show?” He said, “Whenever you want to. When do you want to be on it?” I said, “Sometime when you’re going to be there.” [Laughter.] But I don’t know, like I’m working the way I’ve been working. Oh, I could find time if I want to go out there, but I never know what’s going to be happening. Because -- 44:00I just came back from Switzerland just before I opened here. I just enjoyed that so, but the weather -- it’s really a wonder that I’ve got any voice -- because the weather is so changeable now. When I was over there, you’d look out and the sun would be shining so bright. Then you’d go and you’d do something, straighten up something, then look out and it would be cloudy. First thing you know it’d be snowing and then the snow wouldn’t stick on the ground, and then it would be raining. I said “Well, I’m seeing all the weather.” All sorts of changes in the weather everyday.

MB: As you move, as you’re saying, back and forth from the constant [?]. You’re 45:00right, it’s a wonder you don’t get sick.

HH: Well that’s the truth, honestly. I said, “Well the Lord has his arms around me, thank heaven.”

MB: Do you have a rest period planned in the foreseeable future?

HH: After I come back from Sweden in August, I’m trying to get a record session together. I’m trying to get some songs ‘cause I’m going to record for a new record company. I’m hoping that maybe I’ll have time to do that before I go to the. . . I’m doing the Monterey Festival this year. But then I’ve got some 46:00things to do on the west coast before I do the festival, so I want to try to get that done, my recording done before I go into that.

MB: Not really understanding show business myself, do you have someone that takes care of getting the gowns, and this type of thing, for you since you’re on the road all the time? Are these things provided as you go from place to place?

HH: No, you provide them.

MB: I don’t see how you have time to even [?]

HH: I used to have a dressmaker. It’s so hard to find a dressmaker now. But, I used to have a dressmaker and I’d say, “Well now Estelle, I want this and that 47:00and the other.” She would have them all ready and send them on to me. But now I don’t have anybody like that now, so if I want something I have to take time off and go try to find someplace where they have the big sizes. [Laughter.]


HH: …While I try to bring two weeks’ worth of gowns. Go somewhere else for two or three weeks, or if I’m going to be there three weeks I have to take three weeks’ worth of gowns. I guess I maybe overdo, I ought to some things you can put together, wear this with this, and this with that, but I don’t know.

MB: And like hair, getting your hair fixed, this type of thing, is a problem 48:00from place to place.

HH: Yes, and I can’t wear wigs because they give me a headache. I wish I could. But then when you get out there and you get to working and I see I perspire now. And all that would be running down in my eyes and all. So, I just grin and bear it. I can’t have everything.

MB: Well it sounds like you’ve had a good share though. Enjoyed what you’ve had.

HH: I do. I really do.

MB: I know you’ve got friends here in Louisville that have wanted to see you. You haven’t even had a chance to see them.

HH: That’s the truth. That’s the truth. I said when you go home and you haven’t been there for so long and you just have two weeks, well you don’t get a chance to really see.


MB: Have you really been here since ’77, since the Crusade? Have you been here to stay since then?

HH: No.

MB: So it’s really been several years since you have had any... ?

HH: Yes. I left here in ’75. I haven’t been here to stay, this is the longest I’ve been in town since then. I came for the Crusade, I was here for three days, I think. Then I came for the Belvedere, I was here for one. So that’s been it.

[Phone rings, tape turns off then back on]

HH: Today has been a busy day. [Laughter]

MB: We’re laughing because Miss Humes has received numerous telephone calls from different areas of the country. She has somebody keeping things together for her on every coast.

HH: Yes, that’s the truth. But I’m glad they think enough of me to call. But 50:00they would always call, you know, at the wrong times. And she says it’s so hot out there. I wish some of that…

MB: …hotness would come here.

HH: Yeah, yeah! She says it’s just beautiful.

MB: You’re talking about, are you going on to Florida from here?

HH: Yes.

MB: You will be at Disney World?

HH: I open there Monday. I’ll have my birthday down there. I’ve had letters from some of them from down there. “Helen, we’re just waiting for you to get here so we can have a big party.” I said “Now, there you go.” Oh, everybody down there’s so nice. I love down there.

MB: Have you met anybody you didn’t like? [Laughter.] You seem to get along so well.

HH: Well yeah, I just like everybody. Well everybody’s so nice to me. Everybody. 51:00It’s very, very seldom I see somebody that might kind of rub me the wrong way. That’s unusual.

MB: Well I’m delighted for you that you’re enjoying all this time. I know that you mentioned that you have favorite composers, such as Gershwin and Fats Waller and Hoagy Carmichael. Do you have a handful of their favorite songs that’s some of your all time favorites?

HH: Well, my all time favorite song, I don’t even know who wrote that, but I’ve got the sheet music and never looked on it. And I didn’t even know I had the sheet music and I happened to be going through some old music when I came home 52:00that last time and I found it. I don’t know who, I can’t remember who wrote it. It was a song called Every Now and Then. I can’t remember who wrote that to save my life.

MB: Do you draw mainly now from the standards or are you having new music submitted to you that you’re trying at this point?

HH: No, honey, this new music. . . I’ve got several nice pieces that I’m going to try to get in on my other session. But I have had some music sent to me that I sent back. I said thank you very much, but I do not sing this kind of material. They sent me songs that goes “sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. 53:00Everybody’s got to have some sex, sex, sex, sex, sex. Ah, sex. Oh, sex. Sex, sex.” And I said, “Well you know, this must be a sex maniac or something, I don’t know what this is.” And it don’t sound like nothing. It’s just the same thing, just the same little chord, over and over and over. And I said, “Well, now.” And sent me eight sheets and it was the same thing, all of them were just sex, and my teacher taught me about sex, then you got to start getting sex when you’re young. I don’t know, somebody was crazy. And I sent it back. I said, “Well thank you so much, but I do not sing this kind of material, so you send it to someone else.”

MB: Do you and your pianist do most of your own arrangements or do you have 54:00somebody else?

HH: Yeah, he does it. He’s an arranger -- well, he’s just everything. He’s a good piano player, he can play anything in any key and he can arrange it any kind of way you want it and just everything. I’m just lucky to have Jerry. [Laughs.]

MB: How long as he been with you.

HH: He lived in Los Angeles, and when I used to work out there he would be playing wherever I was working or something, and we worked together out there. Then when they told me I could bring my own group when I went back to France in ’74, well I had them send for Jerry. When I first went to the Cookery, they had this beautiful pianist, Ellis Larkins. Then after we did two or three different 55:00things, then when I asked Mr. Josephson if I could send for my piano player that I had used to work with, and he said yes. So, then I sent for Jerry and Jerry’s been working with me ever since. He didn’t work with me last year, he was sick. But now he’s been back again with me since March. Just hope he stays.

MB: That must be a relief to know that you’ve got the same person with you [].

HH: Yes, yes it is. When he was away I had some good piano players though. I had the top ones. I had Ray Bryant and I had John Bunch. He’s the one that plays with Benny Goodman. I had this boy, Duke Jordan, he makes his headquarters over 56:00in Copenhagen, but he’s from New York. And then I had this boy, Norman Simmons, he’s very good. He works with Anita O’Day most of the time, well when she’s on the east coast he works with her. He’s starting to work with little Scott Hamilton now, and that will really be a nice group. Scott is one of the youngest tenor saxophone players and he plays like the old timers, and he is good. Very good.

MB: Think you’re going to see some good musicians coming back [].


HH: Yes. Because you know it would make you feel good when you hear somebody sit down at a piano and play a tune that you could relate to. I mean, this is running it up and down the keys [makes sound like scales]. I mean, who can hum that? I think good music is something that you think back, and you can hum it, and you enjoy hearing it, you know, something that’s easy on the ear.

MB: Your memories connected with it, to identify with it.

HH: That’s right. But the kids are, they are really learning. They’re learning 58:00what it is to really play a good tune. So many of the little groups you see, nobody can read a note. They’re just running up and down the []. Everybody’s doing their own thing. That’s the way it sounds too.



MB: …Wind up now, in fact our tape ran out on us and we thought we were recording. I was just telling Miss Humes how much I really appreciate her talking with us and being a Louisvillian and I’d like for her to retell what she had just said about always calling herself a Louisvillian.

HH: Oh, when I first went to New York and everybody was telling me about, they’d ask me, “Helen, where are you from?” I would say, “I’m from Louisville, Kentucky.” They’d say, “What? Louisville?” And then as soon as whoever it was 59:00that was asking me that leaves, well then the group would say, “What makes you tell everybody you’re from Louisville, Kentucky? Why don’t you tell them you’re from New York?” I said, “I don’t want to tell them I’m from New York, I like Louisville. And I’ll tell them I’m from Louisville, Kentucky. That’s Derbytown and I love it. And that’s the way it is.”

MB: And that’s the way it’s been with Helen Humes, today, June 12, 1979. She’s a delightful person to talk to. Just really do appreciate you taking the time to record this. And as I’ve told you these tapes are available at the University for young people doing research or for special projects that are put together by the University. We’ll count this a valuable addition to our. . .


HH: Well thank you, just thank you for asking me. I’m not a very good talker.

MB: We’ll argue about that. I think you’ve done great, and I really appreciate it.

HH: Well, thank you so much.