Resolution Aims To Reclaim Mildred Bailey’s Roots

A resolution put forth by the Coeur d’Alene tribe in Idaho is looking to honour jazz singer Mildred Rinker Bailey and get her inducted to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame in New York.

Bailey has long been considered one of the great white jazz singers of the 30s and 40s. However, it is generally not taken into account that Bailey was of native descent and grew up on a reservation in Idaho.

Bailey, who passed away in 1951, was born in Tekoa, a farming town in Washington state, in 1900. Her mother was a Coeur d’Alene tribal member while her father was of Swiss-Irish descent.

She spent her first 13 years on the reservation, before moving to Spokane where she lived next to Bing Crosby. It was Crosby who helped Bailey break-out, recommending her to bandleader Paul Whiteman, who added her as a regular.

The push to reclaim Bailey’s identity was started by 22-year old jazz singer Julia Keefe. Native herself, Keefe discovered Bailey as a teen while researching Crosby and his time at her school, Gonzaga Prep.

In 2010 Keefe was touring the JALC Hall of Fame and wondered why Mildred Bailey was not there.

It is not known why Bailey is considered a white artist but treatment she and her family received upon moving to Spokane may be the cause as she may have downplayed her native heritage during her career.