Rose Murphy: The Chee Chee Girl

Jazz piano player and singer Rose Murphy (1913-1989) came along just a shade too late for the major vaudeville circuits, but she was there just afterward, in the late 1930s as an opening and intermission act for Count Basie. As a solo act she performed at night clubs and the post-vaudeville presentation houses like the Orpheum in Los Angeles, through the ’40s and ’50s, the height of her career.

Murphy’s squeaky, babyish voice is unmistakable, and her Louis Armstrong-style scatting was almost at an avant-garde level of playfulness, hence her nickname “The Chee Chee (or Chi-Chi) Girl”, after one of her favorite nonsense syllables. She was also known for giggling and cooing and such-like sounds, and on her best known number “Busy Line”, she made the “brrrrrrp” sound of a busy signal. She also covered that age old mainstay of the baby-voiced girl singer “I Wanna Be Loved By You”, and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love”. Her quirky appeal is not unlike that of Eartha Kitt, or Billie Holiday. Another of her nicknames was the “Girl with the Pale Pink Voice”.

Despite her VERY Irish given name, Murphy was a black American, who hailed originally from the greater Dayton Ohio area. In addition to radio and records, her national reach was augmented by film and television. She appeared in the movies A Wave, a WAC, and a Marine (1944) and George White’s Scandals (1945), and on such television variety programs as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Milton Berle Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and Merv. She was to become popular in the UK as well as the US. As tastes shifted, she played smaller cabaret venues in major cities, where she remained in demand as a performer until she died at the end of the 1980s. From 1950 through 1977 she was married to Eddie Matthews, the most notable of her four husbands; he had formerly been hitched to Ethel Waters.

To learn more about vaudeville and variety arts history please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous