“Paradise” found: Release of long-lost recordings provides key to jazz singer’s past

PORT TOWNSEND — In her home overlooking Port Townsend Bay, Didi Pierce is waiting to hear if her collection of jazz songs, “Paradise,” has been nominated for a Grammy award.

But honors aren’t important to Pierce, who has already waited almost a half-century for her songs to be released.

“I just want to be able to prove to my family and friends that I made an album once,” Pierce said.

“It is only a memory because my life has been so different since then.”

Now a wife and mother of two grown daughters, Pierce for 10 years lived a life that until now was disconnected from both her past and future.

Originally from Waco, Texas, she left home despite her parents’ objections to sing with jazz combo at Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis in the early 1950s.

Auditioning for songwriter Tommy Wolf, she got a job as the house singer at The Crystal Palace in St. Louis, where she sat on a piano under huge chandelier and sang torch songs.

“That’s where I cut my teeth and did my best singing,” Pierce said.

“I loved those ‘the guy done you wrong songs.”‘

‘Little Girl Blue’

Known by her real name, Laurie Gifford, she was also billed as “Little Girl Blue” in St. Louis.

The last name changed when she was hired to sing at The Cloister Inn, one of the premier jazz clubs on Chicago’s near north side.

“I arrived to find I was billed on the marquee as Laurie Allyn, an amalgam of the letters that were left in the box,” she said.

She traded it in to marry one of the club’s owners and took a year off to have a child.

In the fall of 1957, she was going through a divorce when Red Clyde, a record producer who specialized in female talent, saw her singing in a Chicago nightclub.

“He said he was on his way back to Hollywood and wanted to record me,” Allyn said. “I thought, ‘We’ll see about that.”‘

It turned out to be true, so after taking her daughter to Waco, she flew to Hollywood, where she recorded 12 songs for Clyde’s label, Mode Records.

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