Not without reason has Julie London’s singing voice been described as “the voice of intimacy”: When Julie London sang, she was usually accompanied only by a bass or a guitar – nothing more. London had a unique voice that captivated the audience like no other and gave the listener a feeling of intimacy. At that time, there were two different kinds of singers: those who sang as if they were addressing a large crowd and those who sang for a smaller bar audience. Then there was Julie London: she sang as if she were alone in a room with the listener. 

Julie London’s type was in demand as never before.

In tune with the spirit of the times

It all began in the boutique of an upmarket men’s outfitter on Hollywood Boulevard: there, in 1943, Julie London met the talent agent Sue Carol, who had some influence in Hollywood. Sue Carol was fascinated by Julie London from the very first moment: she was exactly what the zeitgeist was calling for. Her deep, lascivious voice and her appearance predestined her for an acting career at that time: Julie London’s type was in demand as never before.
London’s parents, who were vaudeville artists, introduced their child to the world of art at an early age: Julie London played her first film role in Nabonga (1944) while she was still in high school. Until 1950, Jule London made several films with Warner Brothers Studios. 

Singer, actress or both?

After her contract with Warner Brothers expired, Universal Studios offered her a contract in 1950: But London declined, giving priority to her private life. 
It wasn’t until five years later that Julie London continued her career: in 1955, she was discovered by a jazz producer in a jazz club in Los Angeles and was offered a contract with a record company. Until then, London was sure that she wanted to become an actress: Her performances in jazz clubs were more like a temporary arrangement. Shortly before her first performance as a jazz singer at the 881 Club on La Cienega Boulevard in Hollywood, she was plagued by stage fright and even planned to cancel the performance. But London decided to go through with the performance: That performance in June 1955 was the beginning of her singing career.

Man of the West

In the course of her career, Julie London recorded a total of 32 albums: Among them are some recordings that are now considered jazz standards. The fame that came to her as a singer enabled her to appear on screen again: In the Western Man of the West (1958) Julie London played one of the leading roles alongside Gary Cooper.
In December 1955, Julie London released her first album, Julie Is Her Name

The singer Julie London could now be heard on record: The voice that previously only a few visitors to Californian jazz clubs could marvel at had now become accessible to a large mass. 

Cry Me a River

The track Cry Me a River was the first song on the record Julie Is Her Name: Arthur Hamilton wrote Cry Me a River, which is Julie London’s signature tune. At first, no one expected the album to be a success: When the song was played on several radio stations, listeners called the stations because they wanted to hear the song again and again. The demand for the record was so high that it was sold out in no time and the record label Liberty Records could not keep up with the follow-up production. Julie London didn’t have high hopes at first, because Cry Me a River was initially nothing more than an unknown song by an unknown singer released on an unknown record label.
Within a few years, however, the record sold almost a million copies: thus the record was considered a phenomenal success. 

Julie London was able to build on the success of her first record and released further records that also became great successes.
Between her first album in 1955 and the year 1960, Julie London released eleven albums: After her first album, London ventured into interpreting jazz tunes, performing popular songs by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Irving Berlin.
If one went into a record shop in the fifties and sixties, the covers of Julie London records stood out: they were sometimes very daring covers that were far ahead of their time and fascinated the viewer with their presentation. 

For Julie London, the world of music and the world of film were not far apart.

Two careers

In 1957 Julie London played one of the leading roles in the western Saddle the Wind: Julie London remained strongly attached to the genre of the western film throughout her screen career. It was not uncommon for London to perform one of her songs during the course of a film.
For Julie London, the world of music and the world of film were not far apart: by now, Julie London had much more self-confidence and was convinced of a successful career as a singer. Julie London’s plan worked out: In addition to her career as a recording star, she appeared in numerous films, including The Wonderful Country (1959) alongside Robert Mitchum

Live performances

During the sixties, Julie London recorded 20 more albums: She also decided to perform live in front of an audience. The singer preferred the kind of audience that would listen to her and refrained from performing in nightclubs where the art was not the main focus. With her concerts, London was able to convince even those who had previously criticised her singing style: one critic remarked that with her concerts she proved that she could do more than whisper Cry Me a River.
In the mid-sixties, Julie London’s success in the USA waned: But her records became all the more successful abroad. In Tokyo, efforts were made to book the exceptional singer for a series of concerts: Julie London’s unique vocal style was well received even by Japanese audiences. 

New Zeitgeist

Beginning in the sixties – if not earlier – the US music world increasingly diverged from the Great American Songbook, which had previously been considered the measure of all things. From now on, other artists dominated the charts – among them the Beatles and the Rolling Stones: this meant for London that she had to change her direction. The times when Julie London could be successful in the charts were over: on her last albums, London concentrated on the quality and selection of her songs. Whether the album would end up in the charts or not no longer mattered. 


Her unique vocal style makes Julie London one of the most influential singers of the 20th century: throughout her career, she covered several genres, including jazz and pop. With her last studio album Yummy, Yummy, Yummy (1969), a collection of contemporary songs, Julie London ended her singing career: the world of music had changed and before she was threatened with humiliation for unsuccessful records, she decided to draw a line under her career as a singer.
London’s influences in the world of music are still felt today: Not only is her signature song Cry Me a River regularly covered, her vocal style is the inspiration of many jazz and pop singers.

Simon von Ludwig

Jazz at Der Bussard

Main source: Owen, Michael: “Go Slow: The Life of Julie London”, 2017 Chicago Review Press

Cover picture: © Simon von Ludwig

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