The husband and wife team of Les Paul (guitarist, born Lester William Polsfuss in 1915, died August 13th 2009) and Mary Ford (vocalist, born Iris Colleen Summers in 1924, died in 1977) recorded 16 Top Ten hits between 1950-1954.
Mary Ford (aka Iris Colleen Hatfield) (July 7, 1924, El Monte, California, – September 30, 1977, Arcadia, California), vocalist and guitarist, was one-half of the famed husband-wife musical team, Les Paul and Mary Ford. Between 1950 and 1954, the couple had 16 top-ten hits. In 1951 alone, the duo sold six million records.
Born Iris Colleen Summers, she came from a musical family. Her father was a Nazarene minister, and her parents left Missouri, traveling cross-country while singing gospel music and preaching at revival meetings across America, eventually settling in Southern California where they were heard over Pasadena's first Christian radio station. All of her sisters and brothers were musicians: Esther, Carol, Eva, Fletcher, jazz organist Bruce and film composer Bob Summers.
In the early 1940s. she found work as a country music performer with Gene Autry and Jimmy Wakely. She appeared with Wakely in the PRC film I'm from Arkansas (1944) as a member of the Sunshine Girls trio. In 1945, Autry introduced her to guitarist Les Paul, and the two teamed in 1946. For billing purposes, Paul selected "Mary Ford" from a telephone directory so her name would be almost as short as his. With Paul, she became one of the early practitioners of multi-tracking. Patti Page and Jane Turzy were other 1950s vocalists who used multi-tracking.
1 Radio and television
2 Documentary film
3.1 Hit singles
Radio and television
After their marriage December 29, 1949, the couple appeared together on their NBC radio program, The Les Paul Show (1949-50), and they had a series of hit records for Capitol in the early 1950s, including "Tiger Rag", "Vaya con Dios" (11 weeks at #1) and "How High the Moon" (nine weeks at #1), "Bye Bye Blues" and "The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise". These songs featured Mary harmonizing with herself, giving the vocals a very novel sound. Paul and Ford also used the now-ubiquitous recording technique known as close miking, where the microphone is less than six inches from the singer's mouth. This produces a more intimate, less reverberant sound than is heard when a singer is a foot or more from the microphone. It also emphasizes low-frequency sounds in the voice. The result is a singing style which diverged strongly from earlier styles, such as vocals in musical comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1953 the couple began their television series, The Les Paul and Mary Ford at Home Show. In 1955 they gave a concert at Carnegie Hall, and the following year they performed for President Dwight Eisenhower at the White House.
They faded from the charts in the late 1950s, and in 1964, Ford and Paul had a bitter divorce, ending their professional association. Living in Monrovia, California, she married an old friend from high school, Donald Hatfield, and occasionally performed with her sisters and brother. Bassist Red Wootten, who married Mary's sister Eva Summers, wrote his memories of playing at the Crescendo in Los Angeles with Mary, her sister Carol and her brother, Bob Summers:
My brother, Buddy Wootten, also a bassist, called me from Atlanta to tell me he had just finished working the Fox Theater with Les Paul and Mary Ford. Mary also told me this later. This was while I was holding forth with Woody Herman 0rchestra. So, later when I had married her sister (Eva), we worked with her other sister and Bob Summers (her brother) on guitar (sounds like Les Paul too,) and Mary's other sister Carol. The gig was the Crescendo club right in the middle of Sunset Strip. A very hip joint!
Mary used a drummer added to Bob, Mary and myself on electric bass. We did almost all the Les Paul-Mary Ford recordings but with more heavy end on the bass. Les having used guitar on his bass tracks with Mary earlier. On all their recordings (as good as they were), I always missed that deep dark sound… Mary (bless her heart) recorded a few of my compositions (never released), but she did an excellent job as always. Mary divorced Les Paul and later married her old school friend from Monrovia, California, namely Don Hatfield, who owned a large construction company in California. He is still with us, and I see him occasionally. Doing great, but he missed Mary.
Bob Summers, my brother-in-law has come into his own over the years too. Bob and I worked a lot on MGM records with the Mike Curb scene, early 1960s. He also was chief arranger for the Mike Curb Congregation, and they recorded some of my material, great too! Also Bob and I worked at Capitol records for Ken Nelson and Cliffie Stone, passed recently. Too many country artists to even name nearly all of them: Hank Thompson, Wynn Stewart, Rose Maddox and others. Roy Lanham did one of his better albums at the Sound House, Merced, in El Monte (my old stamping grounds) and Mary Ford's home place, 9840 Kale Street. Bruce Summers is still with us, a piano man whom I played with a few times; a real swinger too.
Mary Ford came from a musical family, and after leaving Les Paul, she sometimes performed with her sisters, Carol, Eva and Esther. Seen here (l to r) are Carol and Eva Summers with Millie Pace. The guitarist who recorded with the Millie Pace Trio was Bob Summers, Mary Ford's brother.In Downey, California, Mary's sister Esther Williams played the organ in The Village Restaurant. Esther's daughter, Esther Colleen "Suzee" Williams, recalled one amusing incident at the restaurant in the years after Mary Ford and Les Paul had split up:
There was one singer that came in to sing with my mom. His name was Lou Monica. Well, Mary asked him to learn the song "Donkey Serenade." It's not an easy song to sing, however, Mr. Monica agreed and after a couple of weeks, he said he was ready. As he began to sing, the doors of the club opened wide, and in came Mary, dressed in black with a black gaucho hat, on top of a donkey! Mr. Monica never skipped a beat.
Mary Ford died of complications from diabetes in Arcadia, California at the age of 53. She is buried at Forest Lawn-Covina Hills in Covina, California. Although her year of birth has been variously reported (1924, 1925, 1928), the year 1924 is engraved on her tombstone.
Along with interviews, performance footage of the couple is featured in the musical documentary Chasing Sound: Les Paul at 90, directed by John Paulson (Johnny Mathis Live, An Evening with Chita Rivera). Distributed by Koch Entertainment, Chasing Sound premiered May 9, 2007 at the Downer Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, followed by the television premiere July 11, 2007 on PBS as part of its American Masters series.
"Vaya con Dios"
"Mockin' Bird Hill"
"How High the Moon"
"The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise"
"My Baby's Coming Home"
"Lady of Spain"
"Bye Bye Blues"
"I'm Sitting on Top of the World"
The Hit Makers!
The New Sound
Les Paul's New Sound, Vol. 2
Bye Bye Blues!
Les and Mary
Time to Dream
Warm and Wonderful
Bouquet of Roses
Fabulous Les Paul & Mary Ford
^ Wooten, Red. Red Wooten Archives (Letter to Ed Wilson and Debbie Lanham).
^ Reeves, Jim. "A Visit with Les Paul and Mary Ford" (June 3, 2002)
^ Chasing Sound: Les Paul at 90
^ American Masters - Les Paul
^ Music Match Guide: Les Paul