Jane Pickens Langley

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Pickens circa 1940s to early 1950s.

Jane Pickens Hoving (1908 – 21 February 1992) was a popular American singer on Broadway, radio and television for 20 years and later an organizer in numerous philanthropic and society events. She was the musical leader of the Pickens Sisters, a trio born on a Georgia plantation that reached national stardom in the 1930s with its own radio show, concert tours and records.

Pickens Sisters[edit]

The Pickens sisters were born in Macon, Georgia, and grew up there and in Atlanta. Their parents taught them to harmonize. Their father, a cotton broker, played the piano and their mother sang.

At first the sisters sang for friends, then at churches and schools. The family moved to Park Avenue in Manhattan in 1932, and a test recording for Victor made such an impression with radio executives that they hired the sisters unseen. Promoted as "Three Little Maids From Dixie", they appeared in Thumbs Up on Broadway and in a movie, Sitting Pretty.

Signed to Victor as Victor's answer to the popular Brunswick recording artists, Boswell Sisters, they recorded 25 sides for Victor from early 1932 until late 1934. Their records had a much more novel quality than the harder jazz-styled Boswell Sisters' records. Also, as 1932 Victor records had two- and three-part harmonizers, the Three X Sisters, with experimental sweet/swingy tunes. These three groups were the most noted harmonizers of their day.

The Pickens group earned $1 million in five years but dissolved when two sisters left to get married and a fourth, who was the group's manager, also departed.

Serious about her music[edit]

Of the sisters Jane Pickens, who arranged the group's numbers, was the most serious about music. She studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Fontainebleau in France and won fellowships at the Juilliard School where she studied with Anna E. Schoen-René. Several times she dropped out of public appearances to resume formal training.

She sang in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 in a cast that included Fanny Brice and Gypsy Rose Lee. In 1940 she played opposite Ed Wynn in Boys and Girls Together on Broadway. Brooks Atkinson's review said she had "a most attractive voice."[1]

A turning point came in the 1940s when, unsatisfied with her career, she consulted Robert Alton, a music arranger. He told her that she came across as aloof, which he attributed to her feeling defensive. His analysis was a revelation. "I woke up the next morning absolutely healed," she said. "That wall was just gone."

In 1949 she won acclaim for starring in the lead of Regina, the musical version of The Little Foxes. One review said her performance was "in every way admirable." Jack Gould wrote that she "sings and acts with the ferocity of a poisonous snake."

Pickens pursued her music career alone and had wide-ranging success, from musical comedy to opera and nightclub engagements as well as her own shows on NBC radio and ABC television. The World-Telegram said in 1940: "She's probably the most beautiful woman on Broadway with a voice."

In 1954, Pickens appeared in a 15-minute ABC television musical series, The Jane Pickens Show, which was replaced in the spring by The Martha Wright Show.[2]

She frequently performed benefits for charitable causes, including events for orphans, hospitals, youths, veterans and the disabled. When her career tapered off in the late 1950s, she turned to running hundreds of fund-raising affairs. Among her favorite causes were the Salvation Army and research into heart disease and cerebral palsy, a condition that afflicted her daughter.

Personal[edit]

She became a noted figure at balls and other society events in New York City, Long Island and Newport. After her career peaked she was married twice to prominent businessmen. First was William C. Langley, a Wall Street broker. After he died, she married Walter Hoving, who had owned Tiffany & Company and Bonwit Teller.

In 1972 she ran as the Republican-Conservative challenger to United States Representative Edward I. Koch in the Silk Stocking district on the East Side of Manhattan. Five years later, Koch was elected mayor of New York.

Mrs. Hoving also painted. Flowers were her favorite subject, roses in particular. She exhibited in galleries and sold dozens of paintings for charity.

She was 83 years old when she died of heart failure in Newport, Rhode Island, on February 21, 1992. She also had a home on Park Avenue in Manhattan. An early marriage to Russell Clark ended in divorce. She was survived by her daughter, Marcella Clark McCormack of Newport and Manhattan, and a sister, Patti Shreve of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Juilliard Archives Anna E. Schoen-René Scrapbook
  2. ^ Earle Marsh and Tim Brooks, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Programs, 1946-Present, p. 744.