Esme Stephens Profile

Chris Bourke
25 Mar 2014

When she was just 19, Auckland singer Esme Stephens performed in her home town with one of the greatest bands of the jazz era.

In 1943, as part of the “American invasion” of US troops on their way to fight in the Pacific, swing star Artie Shaw visited in New Zealand with his US Navy band. He had hand-picked the musicians from his jazz peers who had been called up or volunteered. Shaw and his uniformed cohorts arrived in New Zealand fatigued and disgruntled after months of playing jazz in hot, sticky, hazardous war zones. On the morning of 1 August, during a rehearsal for a concert that night at the St James Theatre on Queen Street, it was suggested that perhaps the band should have a female vocalist perform on a couple of numbers.

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Esme Stephens with the 1ZB Radio Band in the early 1950s, led on this occasion by Bob Leach - a treasured item from the Frank Gibson Sr collection
Photo credit: Courtesy of Frank Gibson Jr.
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Esme Stephens
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Esme Stephens and the 1YA Radio Band, in the 1ZB Radio Theatre, Durham Street, Auckland, 1948. Beside her is the MC/drummer Wally Ransom; with the trombone is her husband, the bandleader Dale Alderton.
Photo credit: Chris Bourke collection
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An acetate of Esme Stephens' performance of White Christmas with the Artie Shaw Navy Band, Auckland, 1943
Photo credit: Dennis Huggard Jazz Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library.
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Esme Stephens with her husband Dale Alderton (far left, front) and the Cabaret Metropole band, 1948. The Metropole was on upper Queen Street on the corner of City Road.
Photo credit: Chris Bourke collection
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Esme Stevens on vocals, George Campbell on bass, Frank Gibson Sr on drums. Back row: Bob Davis, Dale Alderton, Murray Tanner, Neil Bruce, Heck Dainty, Front row: Norm Powell, Colin Martin, Julian Lee, Pem Shepherd, Jim Watters. Standing: Bob Leach. 1ZB Radio Theatre, early 1950s
Photo credit: Bernie Allen collection
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Art Rosoman was an expatriate Canadian saxophonist who played with and led New Zealand bands for 10 years from 1939. He is pictured here in June, 1947, with his band in the radio studio at the top of Shortland Street, Auckland. Esme Stephens is on the right hand side of the vocal trio; beside her is Lee Humphreys of the Knaves. His wife Nancy Harrie is at the piano. Wally Ransom is the MC; he later ran Southern Music in Auckland. In the trumpet section are, from right, Julian Lee, Stan Hills and Lou Campbell.
Photo credit: Chris Bourke collection
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The 1951 78rpm release of Between Two Trees (backed with The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise), accompanied by the Guitars of Buddy Kaine. Buddy would back Esme on three 78s for Zodiac in 1950 and 1951.
Photo credit: Dennis Huggard Jazz Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library.
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Esme and Dale wish their fans Seasons Greetings in Jukebox magazine, December 1946
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Trivia:

Esme and Dale long owned the Sparkle Drycleaners in Auckland's Herne Bay and were noted local faces with their always new American wood-panelled stationwagons.

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