Band leader Ivy played on to the end

Forces favourite still popular 50 years later

THE first woman in Britain to become a band leader - decades before today's female rock musicians - died yesterday in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex where she was still delighting audiences with music that won her fame in the 1940s.
Ivy Benson, one time clothing shop clerk from Leeds, who became part of Second World War history when her Ladies' Dance Orchestra began broadcasting on the BBC in 1943, remained an entertainer to the end.
Her death at 79 after a heart attack yesterday left a string of unfulfilled engagements in clubs in the Essex seaside resort to which she retired in her last years.
She rarely played the saxophone which was part of her image when,young, pretty, petite and auburn-haired in long evening gown, she led her glamorous big band of young and attractive women players in evening dress.
They keyboard of an electronic organ became the vehicle for her musical talent after her band performances, always introduced by her signature tune Lady Be Good ended in the 1980s.
She played for an audience for the last time in the dining room of the Esplanade Hotel on Clacton seafront on Monday evening and had ten bookings between now and Christmas at a local social club for retired people where she was also booked for next New Year's Eve. Mr Michael Clarke, proprietor of the Tavern Club at Holland-on-Sea, adjoining Clacton
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where she played on Saturday evening said "We are going to miss her so much. We were so proud of her. She was marvellous. She would fill the club when she played and sang songs like White Cliffs of Dover. She would sit at the bar with members and talk about the war years, the Blitz and entertaining the troops.She used to say how she kept losing members of her band because they kept marrying American servicemen."
Ivy Benson began playing a clarinet or saxophone in local dance bands in Leeds for 7s 6d (37.5p) a night in the 1932 to supplement her weekly wage of 18s (90p) at a Montague Burton clothing store.
After forming her own band, she played in cinemas, cafes and seaside piers before her BBC contract in 1943 gave her a national audience alongside famous broadcasting bands like Henry Hall, Jack Payne, Geraldo and Joe Loss.
While broadcasting, her band toured Allied troops in Britain, the Middle East and Germany, topping charts of the most popular forces entertainers.
At the end of the war, it went to Berlin at the request of Field Marshall Montgomery to play during the victory celebrations. As women her band met opposition from musical unions, theatre managements and other band leaders which she overcame with Yorkshire determination.
Years later she said some band leaders protested to the BBC about her contract and tried to get her off the air. Some musical arrangers deliberately put wrong notes in scores. "The only helpful band leader was Joe Loss. He told the others to give me a chance" she said.
In 1949 she married Caryll Clark, theatre producer at a holiday camp in Filey, North Yorkshire,
divorcing him in 1951. Her second marriage at 43 in 1957 to an American serviceman, Master Sgt Brantley Callaway lasted seven years.
Her first years of retirement at Clacton in the early 1980s were spent as resident entertainer at the Royal Hotel on the Marine Parade, opposite the pier where she had a first floor room with a sea view.
Mr James Hart, 73, the manager said yesterday "She would play for 2.5 hours twice a day in the morning and in the evening. She was very good with guests, playing requests and getting them to join in the songs. She was in a bad way financially when she came to us but she later sold a property in London and was able to buy a bungalow in Clacton."
In Clacton she was an active worker for charities, organising raffles and giving concerts to raise money for lunches and parties for the old and needy. She was organising a charity sale for this weekend when she died.
A friend, Mrs Jean Godden said "She had a heart condition and doctors had told her to take it easy but she was determined to keep going right to the end."

By R Barry O'Brien
7 May 1993

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