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Published on Apr 8, 2010
Vaughn De Leath (1894 - 1943) was a famous female radio jazz singer who gained popularity in the 1920s and became known as "The Original Radio Girl" and "First Lady of Radio". She was also one of the early crooners.
She was born as Leonore Vonderlieth in the midwestern town of Mt. Pulaski, Illinois in 1894. Her parents were George and Catherine. At age 12, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother and sister, where she finished high school and studied music. While at Mills College, she began writing her own songs, but later dropped out to pursue a singing career. Later she changed her name to Vaughn De Leath.
De Leath's vocals ranged from soprano to deep contralto and easily adapted to the Jazz and radio age in the 1920s. Her first break was in January of 1920 when the inventor Lee DeForest brought her to his studio in New York City's World Tower. Vaughn De Leath sang "Swanee River", in a cramped room, and most of her listeners were only equipped with crystal radio. This was said to be the first live singing broadcast, although some modern historians now question this.
By 1921, in the formative years of commercial radio, she began singing at WABC (AM)WJZ, then in Newark NJ, which was later known as WABC in New York City. She had also performed on the New York stage in the early to mid 1920s, but radio became her first love, and she made a name for herself as a radio entertainer. In 1923, she became one of the first female executives to run a radio station, WDT in New York City, where she also performed. In 1922 she had begun recording on different labels, including Edison Records. In 1928, she appeared on an experimental television broadcast and later became a special guest for the debut broadcast of Voice of Firestone Radio Hour.
Her obituary in the New York Times incorrectly said she was 42 when she died, but she was actually 48. Prior to her death, which occurred in Buffalo, she had considerable financial difficulty, complicated by the drinking problem which contributed to her early death. Her ashes were buried in her childhood home of Mt. Pulaski IL.