Ivy Benson, the female band leader from the swing era who was born in Beeston, is to be commemorated by a Blue Plaque later this year.
Ivy was an accomplished musician who took the opportunity that the Second World War provided to break into a very male dominated world of Big Band Music. With many male musicians conscripted into the forces to fight, all women bands took over entertaining the folks at home. Ivy Benson & Her All Girls Orchestra became pre-eminent and were appointed the BBC Resident Dance Band in 1943.
Over 250 women passed through the ranks of the Orchestra, which Ivy led for forty years. When America joined the war and GIs flooded into Britain, Ivy reportedly complained that every time her band played at an American army base they lost another member.
Leeds Civic Trust awards blue plaques under strict criteria. I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of Ivy until today, but reading about her it’s clear that she fulfills those criteria. She was a woman of special importance in the history of Leeds; who was shaped by her time in the city and who had achievements of national and international significance.
Born in Holbeck, she grew up in Leeds and learned music here, largely from her father. She chose the popular music of the day – swing – rather than becoming a concert pianist. She rose to national and international fame over her long career.
The plaque will be unveiled in the summer and we will be covering the story as it develops. You can see some footage of Ivy playing saxophone here.
Do you remember Ivy? Did you see her play? We would love to hear your memories.