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The San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation Collection The Charles N. Huggins Project

Pat Yankee

Pat Yankee

PAT YANKEE, vocals

b. Lodi, CA 1927

A jazz and blues singer, she performed extensively in New York, then accepted a role in Goman's Gay Nineties, a long-running revue in San Francisco, where she met Turk Murphy.

Pat performed with the Turk Murphy Jazz Band from 1958 - 1962 and they made many recordings.

After leaving Turk's band, Pat toured with her own bands, especially Pat Yankee and the Sinners.

From 1972 - 1981, Pat lived in Madrid, Spain, performed at the Whiskey Jazz Hotel, Dallas Club, and Cova de Drogue, and was called the "White Queen of Jazz" by the Spanish press.

Returning to San Francisco, Pat once again sang with Turk Murphy at both Earthquake McGoon's and at the Fairmont Hotel, until Murphy's death in 1987.

Pat is still performing in 2018.

Pat Yankee - A 2009 Interview

Interview by Scott Anthony

Pat Yankee, vocalist

I was a tap-dancer with the Ted Lewis Review. I started out tap dancing in Lodi, you know. And I did so well I came here to San Francisco and I studied with the Amiele Sisters in the late ‘30s. In the summers when I wasn’t going to school, I was dancing in the line at the Golden Gate Theater during the war. I wasn’t singing yet, well, just a little bit, but not much. It was one of those things those days, a tap dancer always sang one chorus of a song and then went into a fast tap dance. So that’s the way it was, you know. Then I went to New York City after that—I was I guess just turned 16—15 or 16.

I went to Children's Professional School. I studied everything—I studied dancing. I went to ballet. I used to get up at seven in the morning and go to ballet, and, of course, the ballet teacher always said, “You’ll never make it as a ballet dancer—you look more like a Mack truck!” But, he said, “It’s good for your tap dancing.” Anyway, I auditioned and studied with a very famous coach—a vocal coach, for the little songs that I did do. But my dancing was the primary thing in those years. Then I auditioned for Ted Lewis, and went on the road, but I went to school, and I would have to come back for my lessons, and then go on the road with Ted Lewis. I was at the Latin Quarter in Chicago for three months with him. I was all through the East with him and traveled by railroad car. I was solo tap dancer. I was doing songs like "I’m an Indian Too," those little songs that came out. I’d sing one chorus and then go into a fast tap dance. In about 1950, I was studying vocal exercises with a fellow because Vaudeville was going out and I knew I had to start singing. So I studied with Bill Hayes. There came a call that Goman’s Gay Nineties needed a singer, and Bea and Ray Goman hired me, and I was there for five years.

Turk Murphy with Pat Yankee at Easy Street 1958

I knew who Turk was and I met him about 1957 when I finished at Goman’s Gay Nineties. I left after five years, then I went and got an act in Los Angeles from Jack Cathcart, who was Judy Garland’s brother-in-law. He conducted for Judy and did everything. So, I was doing this act all around—I went to Vegas with the act. I was making very good money. I had a big contract with the Silver Slipper. Anyway, I went to the Silver Slipper, but I wanted to get my own act because I was with a line of girls and I’d just come out and sing one song in a little tight dress.

Turk and I had the same agent, Milton Deutch, out of Los Angeles. Milton sent me up to Alaska and I played, you know, Fairbanks, and all the places that had nightclubs. So, I was getting ready to come home and Milton called and said, “I’m sending Turk Murphy up there for the Fur Rendezvous, and he needs a singer. Would you stay up there for another two weeks?” And I said, “Well, yes, I’d love to.” That was my first encounter with Turk. I had a wonderful time meeting him, and, of course, the first time I heard that band, I knew I belonged in that band. I just knew it.

It was love at first sight for his part of it, but it wasn’t love at first sight with my part of it. Immediately [Turk] liked what I did, and he had heard of me at Goman’s Gay Nineties. When I was at Goman’s Gay Nineties, I was in everybody’s column every other week, doing something here and there. I did a lot of charity work and I did also a lot of shows, you know, a lot of society parties, and Turk knew who I was. I used to come down, and watch him at the Italian Village and to hear Claire Austin. I liked her very, very much. Well, anyway, I had all my music, and Turk just played anything I knew, and we got along just fine. He wanted me to come along with the band, but I had a six-month-long contract to go back to the Silver Slipper. I think this was at the end of ‘57, around there.

Pat Yankee and her Sinners: Ernie Carson Art Nortier Bill Carroll, Pat Yankee, Dave Wierbach, Bob Bruckhart, Phil Howe

After the Silver Slipper, I came back here, and that’s when I went with Turk, in 1958. That’s when he was at Easy Street, on Stockton, I think. Of course, the Duponts were backing Pete and Turk at that time. When that closed—it just went belly-up, that’s when Ralph Sutton played the piano so well. Clancy wasn’t there yet. And then the band went on the road. We went on the road for almost two years. We went to New York City. We worked out of New York because Turk was managed by Joe Glazer. Turk had been to New York before, in 1955, to play at Child’s Paramount, but I didn’t go until later. We played the Roundtable, the Embers, the Village Vanguard, and all those places.

Henry 'Red' Allen took Turk and me up to the Apollo Theater one time. I didn’t sing but Turk got up and played trombone. They wanted me to sing, but I said no, but I went with them. It was really a fun, fun thing. Turk had a big following of all the 'Who’s Who' in New York—all the society, especially the Duponts. We used to go up for Tea at Mary Dupont’s place, the New Hampshire House. People say to me, “Have you been in show business?” And I say to them, “Well, yes, I guess I have!” I think I could have gone on and done something really big, but I fell in love with Lou [Rosenauer], and you can’t have two careers.

In 1962, I quit Turk. This was right after we opened at the first Earthquake McGoon’s down on Broadway. I quit Turk and got my first band, Pat Yankee and the Sinners. I had Ernie Carson [cornet] and Dave Weirbach [banjo/guitar] and Bill Carroll [tuba], Art Nortier [piano], and a fellow by the name of Bob Burkhart on drums. And Phil Howe was the leader. I did very well—I opened a place called Mike’s Pool Hall in San Francisco here on Broadway, and, of course, everything was fine until Carol Doda came in with her topless and they said, “Well, Pat, why don’t you go sing jazz topless?” And I said, “No way, no way!”I went all over with that band. It was mostly musicians from Los Angeles and we did harmonies together. I never did do modern stuff. I’d always do "Hard Hearted Hannah" and all those type of tunes that I still like to do.

Pat Yankee
Lawless, Ed

Even with my own band, I always give the fellows a chance to do something. I’d maybe go out and sing three songs, then I’d let somebody else do two songs. Then I’d come back and do one or two, and then let somebody else do something else. That’s the way I’ve always operated with my band. Because if you’re going to have good musicians, show them off for God’s sake!

I’ve had a wonderful life, a really wonderful life. I’ve had people come up to me and say, “Pat, you ought to write a book,” even people who are writers. There would be several chapters of Turk Murphy alone. It just takes so long to do that. I loved being in this business—a happy life. A happy marriage and a happy show business life. I couldn’t go for the star thing because you have to eat, sleep, and breathe it. I’m not out to make any money, I’m out just to sing a few times and have a good time, and see the people that are still with me, and that’s how I feel about it.

—Pat Yankee