Julia Rich is a preacher’s daughter from Nashville. When Julia was three years old her mother, teacher June Blankenship, told Margaret Wright of the Middle Tennessee State University music department, “I’ll be sending you a singer.” Rich grew up singing in church choirs and at revivals held by her father, Rev. H. Fred Blankenship. Her fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Helen Philpot, taught Julia to sing Che Sera, Sera and Faraway Places and prepared her for her first talent contest. A few years later, classified as a lyric coloratura, Rich received a Bachelor of Music degree from MTSU, having studied under both Margaret and Neil Wright.
Julia picked up harmony singing from the Methodist hymnal and the Beatles. A fondness for Judy Garland led to Tony Bennett and how it felt to snap on 2 and 4. While house sitting for a college professor, she listened to a Cleo Laine record and ran to the piano to see what those notes were. After a stint as a singing waitress at the Chattanooga Choo Choo complex, Julia performed in a theatre production of “Side By Side By Sondheim” and was offered a nightclub job, which paired her with pianist Paul Lohorn and bassist Joey Smith, both solid jazz musicians and arrangers. Smith became a mentor and introduced Rich to the music of Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee, Ethel Ennis, Billie Holiday, June Christy and the only diamond in the sea: Ella Fitzgerald. Voice lessons had been helpful, but the best instruction turned out to be Ella in the headphones.
Join the Miller Band; see the world.
In 1985, Julia landed the role of Girl Singer with the World Famous Glenn Miller Orchestra. Joey Smith, who was playing bass in the band at the time, recommended her. Stanley Turrentine organist Butch Cornell played for Julia’s audition tape, which they made in the Chattanooga classroom where Rich taught junior high school music. Two audition tapes and one live audition later, Rich sang her first show with the GMO at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville on November 16.
Touring with the Glenn Miller Orchestra has taken Julia to every state in the union, from one side of Canada to the other, throughout Central and South America, to the World’s Fair in Seville and even New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik. After twenty-four tours of the Japanese Islands, Rich speaks a little Nihongo and is a big fan of the food, the people, the culture, and the concert halls of Japan. From the Hollywood Bowl to Lincoln Center, from the Place des Arts in Montreal to historic theatres and opera houses in the USA, Julia has sung for thousands of knowledgeable fans who love good music. Watching couples who have danced together for 50 years, hearing them share what the music has meant in their lives, and having fans quote her own lyrics to her are the rewards.
Julia Rich has sung Chattanooga Choo-Choo and Kalamazoo not only in Chattanooga and Kalamazoo but also from Reykjavik to Honolulu to San Salvador to Saskatoon. She has visited the faraway places with strange sounding names and was even able to sing and dedicate the Glenn Miller Orchestra rendition of Faraway Places to audience member and former fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Philpot, who taught her the song.
Plays well with others
As girl singer for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Julia Rich has worked with musicians of note including GMO leaders Larry O’Brien, Dick Gerhart, and Nick Hilscher; former GMO leaders Buddy Morrow and NEA Jazz Master Buddy DeFranco; original GMO trombonist Dr. Paul Tanner; big band singers Jeannie Dennis, Lynn Roberts, Connie Haynes, Kay Starr, Barbara Rosene, Joe Francis, Bryan Anthony, Nick Hilscher; and a wealth of talented and distinguished players. In addition to receiving counsel, encouragement, and friendship from Dr. Paul Tanner of the original Glenn Miller Orchestra and his wife Jan, Julia enjoyed a close relationship with Glenn Miller’s sister Irene Wolfe and became friends with June Alyson, who played Helen Miller in “The Glenn Miller Story.”
During Rich’s tenure with the GMO, the band has performed with The Mills Brothers, Helen O’Connell, Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Lynn Roberts, Kay Starr, Connie Haines, Teresa Brewer, Jerry Vale, The Four Aces, Kathie Lee Gifford, Joan Shepherd, and former GMO leaders Buddy de Franco and Buddy Morrow. The Glenn Miller Orchestra has shared the stage with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, the Guy Lombardo Orchestra, The Harry James Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra. A treat: Julia and Count Basie Orchestra singer Carmen Bradford shared a dressing room at the Hollywood Bowl, where Ella Fitzgerald had appeared only a few days prior. Carmen regaled Julia with stories of Ella, Sarah Vaughan, and Joe Williams.
On the business end, Rich served as road manager for the Glenn Miller Orchestra from 1995-2000, from 2004-2005, from 2011-2012 and as assistant road manager to Mike Duva from 1987-1992. It was as GMO road manager that Julia acquired the nickname “that woman.”
Rich was vocal group director for GMO’s “Moonlight Serenaders” from 1989 through 2008.
Though singing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra has been a full-time job for many years, Julia’s work as a solo artist has found her singing at various clubs in Nashville including Mere Bulles, The Merchants, Clayton-Blackmon, and F. Scott’s; and in Chattanooga at the Fairyland Club, the Choo Choo, and Union Square. She has entertained the Literacy Volunteers of America and the Middle Tennessee Choral Society (twice); sung at Maximilian’s in San Francisco, aboard the Crystal Harmony and the Westerdaam cruise ships, impromptu at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City (with Helen O’Connell), the Village Vanguard in Sendai, the St. James Club in Osaka, and at night spots in Chicago, Sao Paulo, and Tokyo. Rich headlined the WMOT Jazz Festival and most recently (2014) sang with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra for New Year’s Eve.
Rich enjoys working with the small group–trio or combo–and also as a duo with just a piano or guitar or upright bass. In addition to the players on the Glenn Miller Orchestra and in the studio, Julia has made music with the late John Propst, Eddie Edwards, Jeffrey Steinberg, Johnny Veith, Jim White, Lennie Foy, Lori Mechem, Roger Spencer, Charles Dungey, Rex Peer, Butch Cornell, and Takehisa Tanaka.
. . . ‘Cause I wrote this song about you
Julia Rich wrote her first song in a piano practice room as a college senior at Middle Tennessee State University. The song will be featured on Julia’s sixth album, in the works. Also on Julia’s upcoming album: her only collaboration with acclaimed jazz saxophonist Rickey Woodard.
Even as a public school music teacher, “Mrs. Highmith” wrote and choreographed songs for her performing Glee Club to celebrate special occasions like Valentines Day, Halloween, Christmas (Santa Claus is a Big Bad Daddy), and end of school (Boogie into Summer). In addition to classic and standard repertoire, the end of the programs might include, e.g., the male section on This Diamond Ring (complete with James Brown turn) to compliment the girls’ Chapel of Love.
Each of Julia’s original songs tells a story. Occasionally, people want to know the whole story, the truth behind the lyrics. But once the song is heard, it becomes about what it means to the listener.
Julia has written both lyrics and melody to many of her songs: The Irises, If I Spoke French, The Way You Make Me Feel, Moonshine in Nashville, As Long as There’s A Morning. But Rich has also enjoyed a productive collaboration with hit singer and songwriter Benita Hill. Benita’s songwriting credits include a couple of #1 hits for Garth Brooks: Two Pina Coladas, It’s Your Song. Rich and Hill have both recorded their Two Afternoons in December which became part of the Glenn Miller Orchestra show, along with Rich/Hill’s My First Love. Other great tunes by the duo include Raining in Rio, Boyfriends, Wineglow, Holidays at Our House, and Frost Me.
The Glenn Miller Orchestra also regularly performed The Irises, If I Spoke French, and Tete-a-Tete from Julia’s original catalog, deftly arranged for big band by pianist/arranger Tom McDonough. Strings were added to The Irises for GMO performances with symphony orchestras’ pops series.
Rich’s solo recordings of her originals are also heard regularly on TV’s Music Choice: Singers & Swing.
Getting it on wax
Julia Rich has recorded five full-length albums for Cardinal Records: I’ll Take Romance, The Way You Make Me Feel, If I Spoke French, Witch Hazel, and Moonshine in Nashville. All recordings were produced by Julia Rich and Tony Migliore. Rich credits Migliore with shining the best light on her original compositions via his fresh arrangements. Musicians and technicians who appear on these projects are listed below.
Tony Migliore – piano / arrangements / co-producer
Gary Weaver – piano / arrangements
Laura Hoffman – piano / arrangements
Jim Ferguson – bass
Bob Mater – drums and percussion
Ron Gannaway – drums and percussion
George Tidwell – trumpet and flugelhorn
Rickey Woodard – tenor saxophone, vocal harmony
Quitman Dennis – tenor saxophone
Denis Solee – clarinet
Larry O’Brien – trombone
Joey Smith – guitar / arrangements
Pete Bordonali – guitar
Pat Bergeson – guitar, harmonica
Amelia Lawrence – flute
Benita Hill, Nick Hilscher, Jeannie Dennis, Lynne Cook, Freddie Summers – duet or harmony vocals
Chuck Haines – engineer, mixing
Brendan Harkin – engineer
Chris Milfred – mastering
Matt Mattingly – engineer, mastering
Recorded at Chelsea Studio – Nashville
Moonshine in Nashville recorded at Wildwood Recording – Nashville