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Mary Navis collection


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Mary Navis was a female big band leader and trumpeter. She once performed as first trumpet player in Ina Ray Hutton's all-female group the Melodears, active from 1933 to 1939, but left to head her own all-male swing band. She was known as the "duchess of swing" and often played at The Yacht Club in West Philly, Lexington Casino on Roosevelt Boulevard, and Benny the Bum's at 311 South Broad Street in Philadelphia.

Despite her renown as a musician during her lifetime, there is remarkably little information on Mary Navis's personal life. Records within the collection indicate that she was known as both Mary Navis and Mary Novis. While she appears to have been married (one newspaper clipping indicates that her husband was a trumpeter in her band), all her professional activities were conducted under her maiden name. She was probably born around 1920. According to a newspaper clipping in the collection, Navis was "the only girl who play[ed] an instrument in front of a man's band. Her father [was] a celloist, and she began giving concerts at the age of five, playing her violin. Although she never took a trumpet lesson in her life, she [wa]s considered one of the foremost woman trumpeters in the country. She ... also play[ed] the violin, guitar and drums as well as several other musical instruments," (box 1, folder 3).

The name of her group seems to have changed over the years, with documents indicating that her group was billed as: Mary Navis's Troubadour Band, Mary Navis and Her Man-Band, Mary Navis and Her Men of Rhythm, and Mary Navis and her Orchestra. She was active from the late 1930s through the 1950s.

This collection consists of correspondence, memorabilia, newspaper clippings, and photographs, all related to Mary Navis's musical career. The correspondence contains letters about publicity work for Selmer instruments, now known as Conn-Selmer, as well as other correspondence concerning her management. The memorabilia include several publicity fliers for her performances, including two for "Retail Clerks" in which her name was spelled "Novis." The newspaper clippings primarily concern her performance announcements which were mostly at The Yacht Club, Benny the Bum's, and the Lexington Casino, all in Philadelphia. These clippings also include reviews and praise for her performances. In addition to this, there in a clipping of a photograph in a newspaper that shows Navis with Hal Le Roy, an American singer, dancer and actor, and Ina Ray Hutton. The photographs are a mix of formal and candid and mostly solo-shots of Navis, but also include photographs of her and other women playing their instruments (possibly the Melodears).

Sold by Between the Covers, 2016.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Kelin Baldridge
Finding Aid Date
2016 November 30
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

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Correspondence, 1938-1941.
Box 1 Folder 1
Memorabilia , 1933-1942, undated.
Box 1 Folder 2
Newspaper clippings, 1937-1939, undated.
Box 1 Folder 3
Photographs, 1947-1949, undated .
Box 1 Folder 4

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