She is best known for two recordings that have rarely been off the airwaves since they were made in the 1950s: The single ‘Opo the Crazy Dolphin’ and the perennial advertising jingle for Geddes dentures.
McMinn grew up in Taumarunui, and it was almost inevitable that she would become an entertainer. Her much older brothers played in dance bands, and she first performed on stage at the age of six, as a dancer. She would go on to win many dance competitions, in tap and Irish dancing and, aged nine, tour New Zealand as part of the variety show White Horse Inn. At 10 she made her singing debut on 1ZB’s children’s radio show Neddo’s Jolly Pirates. Her 1942 success in the Dixieland’s talent quest came at the behest of her grandmother, who made her enter. She became a regular at the lavish cabaret, singing with Johnny Madden’s Swing Kings dance band, and they soon moved a block north on Queen Street for a residency at the Trocadero club, opposite the Town Hall.
Eventually she was featured on more than 25 sides for Tanza, including several of the label’s biggest hits.
After the war, McMinn sang with Ted Croad’s dance band six nights a week at the Orange Ballroom, marrying his son, the drummer Eddie Croad. In the early 1950s, she began recording for Tanza. Her debut was ‘Choo’in Gum’, with John MacKenzie and the Astor Dixie Boys (George Campbell, Crombie Murdoch and Eddie Croad). Eventually she was featured on more than 25 sides for Tanza, including several of the label’s biggest hits. Among her successes were ‘Mister Tap Toe’ and ‘Dancing In My Socks’. On ‘Bimbo’ (1954) she duetted with herself, thanks to the experimental over-dubbing of Tanza’s Auckland engineer, Noel Peach. She recorded many novelties (‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’) and also – for Zodiac – guested on duets with country singer Johnny Granger (‘Let’s Give a Little’, ‘Let Mother Nature Have Her Way’).
McMinn’s voice and personality were perfect for early 1950s pop: she was always in tune and sang with a sprightly delivery and a smile. All her recordings are sprightly, even ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ (1954). Her biggest hit was ‘Opo the Crazy Dolphin’, written by jazz pianist Crombie Murdoch in 1956. A jaunty tribute to the friendly dolphin that visited Opononi harbour during the previous summer, it was released just a few days before the Opo was found dead, becoming an unintentional homage.
Even more than ‘Opo’, the piece of music for which McMinn is best known is ‘Broke My Dentures’, a jingle for the Geddes Dental Renovation Clinic in Auckland. With Nancy Harrie on piano, and Lee Humphries singing the male part, McMinn recorded the jingle in 1949 while on the way to the annual Musicians’ Ball. The jingle was still playing 40 years later, but all the musicians received was their original fee of two guineas.
During the Korean War, McMinn twice visited New Zealand troops as part of a touring concert party (the 1954 troupe also included “Maori Cowboy” Johnny Cooper). Her last recording, in 1956, anticipated the future: It was a lively version of the New Orleans R&B hit ‘I Hear You Knocking’. After retiring from singing, McMinn continued her interest in dancing as a teacher and adjudicator, as well as breeding Cocker Spaniels. Her second husband, Niel Randrup, was a saxophonist with the post-war Kiwi Concert Party.