Helen Morgan

Active - 1929 - 1977  |   Born - Aug 2, 1900   |   Died - Oct 8, 1941   |   Genres - Musical, Drama, Romance

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The daughter of a rural Illinois farmer and schoolteacher, Helen Morgan moved to Chicago at an early age, where she was a cracker-packager at Nabisco, a manicurist, and a ribbon counter clerk. After taking singing lessons, she became a Chicago cabaret singer at age 18. Two years later, she was appearing in Broadway's Ziegfeld Follies, and studying music at the Metropolitan Opera in her off-hours; she also toured extensively in vaudeville. Many influential producers felt that Morgan was not "acceptable" for the Big Time: She had a deep, throaty voice, a sad-eyed expression, and a large bosom, all of which were not fashionable in the roaring '20s. But her soulful renditions of "torch songs" were much beloved by Chicago's gangster contingent, who repeatedly bankrolled Morgan's many efforts to open her own nightclub -- efforts which usually came acropper at the hands of the Prohibition agents. Her official "mainstream" stardom began with the 1925 edition of George White's Scandals. Two years later, she created the role of the tragic Julie in Show Boat, introducing such song hits as "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "Bill." She was equally successful in the 1929 Kern-Hammerstein production Sweet Adeline. Though at a career high point in 1930, personal problems caused her to lose several potential jobs, but in 1936 she staged a brief comeback in the film version of Show Boat. On the verge of launching a singing engagement at Chicago's Loop Theater, Helen Morgan died at the age of 41. Ann Blyth starred as Helen in the 1957 biopic The Helen Morgan Story.

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