Peg LaCentra CD Cover

Cover of Peg LaCentra, the Complete Recordings (Baldwin Street Music CD BJH 312)

Band singer and movie dubber Margherita Maria Francesca LaCentra—Peg LaCentra— was born in Boston April 10, 1910. LaCentra has only a minor role in our jazz and nightlife story, but it is a notable one nonetheless.

Peg LaCentra studied piano at the New England Conservatory of Music and acting at the long-defunct Fenway Academy of Dramatic Art. She worked as a staff singer and radio actor at WNAC in Boston just as the Depression was taking hold. In 1931, she moved to New York and a series of jobs in network radio. In 1934, she recorded for the first time, a song titled ”The Fortune Teller,” with the Johnny Green Orchestra.

LaCentra kept at it in the New York studios, and in 1936 sang on “The Mell-O-Roll Ice Cream Show” with the band of guitarist Dick McDonough. Artie Shaw was a sideman in McDonough’s group. He was about to start his own orchestra, and he wanted LaCentra to sing with it. She joined Shaw’s orchestra in summer 1936. The band wasn’t successful and Shaw disbanded, but LaCentra recorded 13 sides with Shaw before then.

Next came singing Benny Goodman, for all of two weeks. LaCentra didn’t like him. She quit and returned to Shaw, who was organizing his 1937 band in Boston. She stayed with Shaw for about two months and recorded four more sides, then returned to radio work in New York. In 1938 she recorded  six sides under her own name on Bluebird, backed by the studio orchestra of Jerry Sears. In 1939, NBC gave her her own “Peg LaCentra Show,” but it is unclear how long it ran.

LaCentra married actor Paul Stewart, and during the war she joined him in California. Although she herself acted in movies and then on television until 1960, she found greater success in the late 1940s dubbing vocals in movies. She did not work as often as the most in-demand dubbers (Martha Mears, Jo Ann Greer, or the most celebrated, Marni Nixon), but she sang for Susan Hayward in Smash Up, and for Ida Lupino in The Man I Love and Escape Me Never.

Here is Peg LaCentra, first singing as herself with Shaw in 1936, on “There’s a Frost on the Moon.” Then we hear her singing for Ida Lupino, on “The Man I Love.” Lupino does better with being dubbed than most I’ve seen.