The Moonmaids history
By Mary Jo Thomas Grogan
It all began at North Texas in 1943. Tinker Cunningham, Arline Truax, Katie Myatt and I were freshmen and friends who found that our voices had the blend we'd been hoping to find. Almost every Big Band in those years featured vocal groups — such as the King Sisters, whom we admired. We were seeking a similar vocal group sound. Our four-girl group, the Swingtet, was the result.
With the encouragement of 'Fessor Graham and the weekly Saturday night stage shows, plus the college dance band, the Aces of Collegeland, we set our goals and dreams in place. We rehearsed often, wrote our own arrangements and performed at every opportunity.
In 1944, we were winners in a statewide college talent competition and were awarded a six-week contract to sing on a weekly show from the Palace Theatre in Dallas. We were then offered a job to sing with a National USO tour of military hospitals. The job only lasted six weeks because of a new rule that USO entertainers must be at least 18 years old. Only Katie Myatt was 18 at that time.
Our dreams were still in place and we continued singing on the Saturday night stage shows and traveling to USO venues when 'Fessor Graham took his college talent with him to military bases in and around Texas. We resumed our studies. When some of the popular big bands were in the area, we would go to hear them and sing for them.
When we sang for Stan Kenton and his popular jazz band, he asked the quartet to sing on a special part of his show. A public relations man who was in the audience heard us and asked if we would be interested in joining a big band. Eagerly, but hesitatingly, we said yes.
In about a month, a telegram came from that agent, who told us of an opening for an all-girl vocal group with the Big Band of Vaughn Monroe. We auditioned by sending a record of our singing to Monroe. Several months later, the Swingtet was on its way to NYC!
Monroe's theme song was "Racing With the Moon," and he decided to re-name the quartet the Moonmaids.
Once again, we left college to pursue our dreams. Vaughn Monroe kept one of his former vocal group's singers, Maree Lee, making the new group a quintet. This Ohio singer had experience singing in bands, and Monroe wanted her to help take the Texas accents from our diction and help with the adjustment to recording sessions, concerts and road tours.
Two of the Moonmaids left the band to marry their college sweethearts. When Katie left the band to marry North Texas student Moddie Smith, the group became a quartet again. When, later, Arline Truax left to marry her sweetheart, North Texas student Rex Meek, we needed to find a replacement. We called June Hiett ('46), a North Texas graduate. June had sung with Sonny Dunham's vocal group, the Sonny Siders. This group also originated at North Texas, where they were known as the Blue Notes. When Dunham's band broke up in late 1946, June returned to North Texas and finished her degree. She was eager to sing again and became a Moonmaid in 1947.
This group remained the Moonmaids through late 1949. Altogether, we sang on more than 50 Victor recordings with the orchestra, backing Monroe's unique voice. We were in a movie, briefly, titled Carnegie Hall. Monroe had a weekly national radio show, the Camel Caravan, that broadcast from various universities and college campuses. (One of these included a show from our beloved North Texas.) We traveled the USA, by bus and train, singing in ballrooms, colleges and universities, and theaters across the country.
In 1950, Tinker and I came back to Denton (our hometown), and once again enrolled in North Texas, as music majors. In 1951 Tinker married Bill Rautenberg, and I married North Texas graduate Harrold Grogan ('49). That same year, June married Eddie Bratone, who was a violinist with the Vaughn Monroe Orchestra.
Tinker and I lived in Dallas and began new part-time careers as jingle and commercial singers. We were in the group of singers who sang the first radio station IDs for Dallas' KLIF. While being wives and mothers, we were able to continue singing jingles for many years. For a number of years, June and Eddie lived in New Jersey, but they eventually returned to Arlngton in the mid-1960s.
In 1981, we three ex-Moonmaids joined with yet another North Texas ex, Libba Anderson Weeks, to sing on the football field at half time for that year's Homecoming game. The blend of voices was good, our children were by then grown, and we got excited when 'Fessor Graham's daughter encouraged us to keep singing. Like her father, she made us realize our gift of singing was a commodity worth pursuing.
Off we went then, into a second time around Moonmaid career. We added the mellow solo voice of my husband, Harrold, and for another 10 years this group sang as the Moonmaids Plus One. (Harrold was the "plus one.") The only change during this time was from Libba Weeks' voice to that of Carol Piper. Carol had a background of Big Band singing and also group singing in the Dallas jingle industry.
In 1991, we decided to call it quits. Carol and her husband, Bob, moved to North Carolina to go into the bed and breakfast business. All of us, and Harrold, retired from the music business and from other jobs, too — until we got the invitation to sing in Palm Beach for guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli's 80th birthday in 2006. None of us ever retired from the love of singing!