PLUMMER, Idaho - Jazz aficionados know Mildred Bailey as the legendary singer who cleared the way for female jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Less well known is the fact that Bailey was Native American. Now, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in Idaho has launched a campaign to bring the singer -- and her heritage -- into the spotlight.
Mildred Rinker Bailey was one of the top-selling artists in Depression-era jazz.
To most audiences, Bailey looked white. But her mother was Coeur d’Alene Indian and Mildred spent her early years on the family’s farm on the Coeur d’Alene reservation in Idaho.
“I think it’s not known at all. Hardly nobody knew,” says Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allen.
The tribe is pushing to have Bailey inducted into the Lincoln Center’s Jazz Hall of Fame. They’re hoping a resolution now moving through the Idaho House will help achieve that goal.
“Not only being Native, but being a woman in that era, to be so strong and keep pushing and not to give up, that would help a lot of our young tribal members who are looking for a role model,” says Chief Allen.
Early on in Hollywood, Bailey helped an aspiring male singer she knew from back in Spokane. That singer is now known as Bing Crosby.