To celebrate the end of the Second World War in Europe, a concert was hastily arranged for the benefit of Allied personnel in Berlin. At the special request of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the first act to be booked was forces’ favourite, Ivy Benson and Her All Girl Band.
Ivy was born in Holbeck, Leeds on 11 November 1913. The daughter of a professional musician, she was a child star by the age of eight (playing the piano with the stage name “Baby Benson”) before becoming an accomplished jazz saxophonist. Shortly before the outbreak of war, Ivy formed her own all-female dance band and got her first big break working with music hall star Hylda Baker.
Her female ensemble shot to national fame during the war, overcoming prejudice from established male performers – there were reports of her musicians’ sheet music being sabotaged to undermine their live performances and protests outside the BBC.
Undeterred, the All Girl Band topped the bill at the London Palladium for six months in 1944 before they were invited to perform in Berlin at Montgomery’s behest in May 1945.
On Christmas Day 1945, Ivy and her band performed live from Hamburg on the BBC immediately after the King’s speech and they also played at the London Olympics in 1948. They were every bit as popular at the time as Vera Lynn and Glenn Miller but less well-remembered now.
The band line-up frequently needed to be refreshed, largely as a result of members eloping with servicemen during their long and frequent tours. Ivy herself married a US soldier following the break up of her first marriage.
The band, in its various guises, continued to perform until the early 80s, their last performance being on the occasion of Ivy’s 70th birthday in 1983.
Ivy died in Essex in 1993, aged 79. There is blue plaque in her honour outside her childhood home in Holbeck.
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