My idea to tell the story of Ina Ray Hutton came about by accident. I was looking for an audition song on Youtube, and a black and white video kept popping up in the search results. I wasn’t expecting much from an old video, but the woman on the clip was conducting a band of 13 women, she was fiercely dancing around the stage in a GOWN, and then she tap danced! Did I mention she was in a GOWN?! At that moment I remember thinking, “Who is this woman, and why haven’t I ever heard of Ina Ray Hutton?” The more research I did about her, the more interesting she became…family secrets, 6 husbands, no children…I knew that this woman had a story, and I wasn’t about to let it get lost to time.
I felt connected through Ina with my experiences as a Las Vegas cocktail waitress, and during my time serving active duty in the U.S. Air Force. (Talk about polar opposite lifestyles!) While working at a major casino, my uniform was a Brazilian thong and a bustier…totally objectified! This was my choice and it’s not quite the same as what Ina Ray Hutton experienced, but it was necessary to wear for employment.
My military experience was completely different. My connection to Ina in this way was through her work with the USO during WWII. I have a tremendous sense of pride for the military and Ina did as well. She toured the USO circuit and recorded a number of her songs this way. I did a military entertainment tour with Tops in Blue, an all-Air Force entertainment group that travels the globe to provide morale for soldiers and their families stationed overseas and in remote areas.
It’s important to tell the story of women who were pioneers in music and entertainment, when it was still very much a man’s world. They fought for respect, equality and opportunity and in Ina’s case, it took a toll on her personal relationships, her safety, job security and financial future.
Ina Ray Hutton and her all-girl band, The Melodears, were thought of as a novelty act. They weren’t taken seriously, even though her band members were trained musicians, and they were a huge financial success just after the Great Depression. Ina was objectified and exploited. She worked hard to be taken seriously, but she met tremendous challenges along the way. Women have definitely made progress in these areas and it’s important to remember and honor their struggles. There’s still more work to be done.
My version of Ina Ray Hutton’s story comes out of over 4 years of research in the form of a one-woman show. I’ve interviewed family members, friends of Ms. Hutton’s, members of Ina’s band from the 1950’s, researched archival newspaper clippings, and ancestry records. My story navigates through Ina’s childhood in the 1920’s, through to some of her last performances in the 1960’s. I tell her story through 12 characters, ranging from her piano playing mother, to her early manager Irving Mills, to a few of her husbands, and a handful of her Melodears. I try to tell the story of Ina’s successes on stage, and her struggles off stage. I do this through voiceovers, singing, 18 songs from the Big Band era, and video projection.
Thankfully, Ina’s spirit is still alive in video on the Internet. Take a few minutes to look at her footage like this one…I guarantee you’ll fall in love with her too!
July 9 — Aug 2, 2015
Journey of a Bombshell: The Ina Ray Hutton Story
at the Anacostia Arts Center
starting July 14 at 7:30PM
Capital Fringe 2015
1358-60 Florida Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
and other locations
Fringe details and Tickets
When not performing her show or auditioning, Melissa Ritz is a certified Bikram yoga instructor and teaches throughout Manhattan. www.JourneyOfABombshell.com