Helen Dance; Jazz Promoter, Writer

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Helen Oakley Dance, jazz historian, promoter and record producer who worked with many of the legendary names in the business including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, died May 27. She was 88.

Dance died in Escondido of complications from a broken hip and a heart attack she suffered earlier in the month.

The widow of jazz biographer and record producer Stanley Dance, Helen Oakley Dance worked for the management organizations of Armstrong and Ellington in the 1930s. She is generally credited with persuading white bandleader Benny Goodman to hire pianist Teddy Wilson, an African American, a daring move at a time when there was no public integration on the jazz bandstand.

Dance also was influential in selling Irving Mills, Ellington's manager, on the idea of forming smaller ensembles from the great Ellington orchestra. From that she became head of artists and repertoire for Variety records, which issued a series of recordings of small bands made up of some of the leading musicians of the Ellington era, including saxophonist Johnny Hodges and trumpeter Cootie Williams.

Born in Toronto, Dance attended finishing school in Switzerland and became hooked on jazz after hearing the Ellington orchestra in Paris. After her return to Toronto, she shocked her upper-crust family by setting out for Detroit to become a singer. But though the singing career never materialized, she became a highly influential presence off the bandstand.

In Chicago and later New York, she produced jazz concerts performed by some of the great names in jazz, including Billie Holiday, Earl Hines and Goodman. The Goodman concert, at the Congress Hotel in Chicago in the mid-1930s, was one of the first, if not the first, formal jazz concerts--with listeners seated concert-style--in the United States.

She also was a contributor to the influential jazz publication Down Beat. After marrying Dance in the late 1940s, the couple would write as a team for publications such as Melody Maker and Jazz Journal.

After the Dances moved to the San Diego County community of Vista in the late 1970s, she wrote a biography of the influential blues guitarist T-Bone Walker. Published in 1987, "Stormy Monday: The T-Bone Walker Story" received positive reviews.

Dance is survived by sons Francis of Woodbury, Conn., and Rupert of Hopkinton, N.H.; daughters Maria Lindley of Carlsbad, Calif., and Theresa Bennink-Dance of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. She also is survived by two sisters, a brother and three grandchildren.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World