Tuesday, August 11, 2015


The American Cinematheque is honored to welcome musician Corky Hale to the Aero for a rare 35mm screening of Lady Sings The Blues, about the life of Billie Holiday.

Jazz vocalist/instrumentalist Corky Hale was born in a small Midwestern farm town and started taking piano lessons at age three. Her music career started just a few years later when, on a family vacation in Florida, bandleader Horace Heidt heard her picking out tunes on a hotel lobby piano and decided to feature Hale in his show.  She soon began studying piano at the Chicago Conservatory, and later the harp. While in college, Corky was hired as a harpist for Liberace and spent three years accompanying him on his TV show and on tour.

While Hale’s early successes focused on the harp, the piano has been her primary instrument, and by the mid-1950s her keyboard work began drawing more attention. With her performances at the Cocoanut Grove heard throughout the country on weekly remote broadcasts, Corky was booked to sing and play piano with Jerry Gray’s band in Las Vegas when there was a last-minute addition to the engagement – Billie Holiday.

Looking over at the platinum blonde Hale, a skeptical Holiday asked who the piano player was. But by the end of the rehearsal session, Billie said to Corky, "You is my little girl." After Las Vegas, she hired Corky to play with her at Los Angeles Jazz City and to accompany her to the Philippines, but Corky was wary of Billie's husband at the time – who was hardly the gentleman portrayed in Lady Sings the Blues - and reluctantly turned down the gig. Before going their separate ways, Holiday and Hale did perform together on television in New York (The Tonight Show) and Los Angeles (KABC-TV’s “Stars Of Jazz” program).

Corky Hale’s career includes many such magical pairings. She has performed at The White House with Tony Bennett, soloed with Barbra Streisand in Central Park and at the Hollywood Bowl, and performed with Bj√∂rk (on her MTV Special in London) and George Michael (at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium). And this multi-talented musician shows no signs of slowing down.