Today is the birthday of Eva Shirley (Eva Schainbaum, 1891-1982). Shirley began her singing career on the Lower East Side where she was born, built her own orchestra which played everything from jazz to grand opera, and took her act all the way to the Palace. Her heyday was the teens and twenties. A Variety piece from 1915 says she stopped the show twice at Hammerstein’s that week, and called her “one of the best prima donnas in vaudeville”. In 1919 she played the Palace with “Her Jazz Band” (a five piece outfit); by 1924 it had swelled to the “Ten Famous Players of Rhythm.” The California Ramblers (the band that was to give the world Red Nichols and the Dorsey Brothers) also backed her up during the 1920s (one of their first engagements). In 1924 she appeared in Ed Wynn’s Grab Bag, singing the Paul Whiteman song “When the One You Love Loves You”. After the twenties, the trail grows cold though; I have found no reference to live performing, radio, film or television — or marriage, the usual reason for not doing all of the above. And yet she lived another 50+ years!
To find out more about vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc