Thursday, July 29, 2010


"I never really left the band," Joya Sherrill once said. "Duke would call me for jobs once a year at least." Which was good enough for the wife and mother that Joya had become long after her initial work with Duke Ellington. She also had a kiddie show on New York's indie station WPIX, where past masters Officer Joe Bolton and Captain Jack McCarthy had hosted Three Stooges shorts and Popeye cartoons.

The New Jersey-born Joya (August 20, 1924 – June 28, 2010) first worked with the Ellington band in 1942, then again in 1944, and more steadily through that decade and into the early 50's. She's often credited as the author of the lyrics to Billy Strayhorn's "Take the A Train." Not always. Strayhorn wrote lyrics that were never used. The piece was often recorded as an instrumental, so the label credit was all his. Joya heard the song on the radio and added some words, which she gave to her father, who had the connections to get it to The Duke. The song was soon recorded with lyrics, but it was up to an astute secretary or somebody at the publishing house to make sure the credit on the label was Strayhorn-Sherrill. But the credit line doesn't end there! Often the credit you see is: Ellington-Strayhorn-Sherrill, because the famous downward chord vamp on the keyboard, which introduces the song and reappears throughout, was Duke's invention. This contribution is as much a part of the song as, say, Matthew Fisher's organ work in "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

Twenty years later, Joya was hired by another Big Band legend, Benny Goodman, for a good will tour of the Soviet Union. Probably her best known single was the Russian tune released via Reprise, "Katusha." And yes, now and then she'd get an offer for a date or two with Ellington and his band…or, the reverse. One day in 1970, the Duke turned up at the WPIX studios on 42nd Street to appear on an episode of "Joya's Fun School." Her series ran (and re-ran) through 1982. After that, she was pretty much the wife of Mr. Richard Guilmenot, a construction superintendent. The couple, and family, lived nicely in Great Neck, New York.

Another New York favorite is the "Joyva Jell." The Joyva company was first known for making halvah (this has already been documented elsewhere on the blog) but also did a brisk business in chocolate-covered marshmallow penny candy, and chocolate covered raspberry jell bars and jell rings.

There's not a more beautiful candy in the world. Bite off either end of a jell bar or bite out a chunk of jell ring, and hold it up to the light; a beautiful, gem-stone shade of purple.

The jell bars began to disappear when penny candy inched upwards of two for a nickel, although Joyva did market a full-sized bar for ten cents eventually (available in pure raspberry enrobed in chocolate, or stripped of chocolate and sprinkled with sugar, and half raspberry, half orange, with a peculiar meringue foam in the middle). As Joya's name instantly brought back a memory of Joyva, the photo gives our singer the treat of a handful of jell rings, which are still sold (by the pound) in stores and via the Internet. Ring-a-ding!

Joya Sherrill's few albums are easy to find on eBay, and on a good week, can be had for a fiver or a tenner. They include her main solo work, "Sugar and Spice" (on Columbia, featuring Luther Henderson) and "Joya Sherrill Sings Duke Ellington" (on 20th Century) as well as odd-ball "halfsy" albums such as "Della Reese and Joya Sherrill" and "Spotlight on Sammy Davis Jr. and Joya Sherrill" (also known as "Sammy Davis Jr. Jumps with Joya.") There's also the original cast album "Duke Ellington's MY PEOPLE with Joya Sherrill." But…for a taste, we go with…"Do Me Good Baby," which Joya certainly does.

DO ME GOOD BABY! Instant download, no pop-ups pop-unders, porn ads or wait time extortion.

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