Tag Archives: Count Basie

My Mother-in-Law’s Legacy, Part I

I frequently find myself missing my mother-in-law. She passed away on my daughter’s 16th birthday, ten years ago.

She was a great MIL–a warm and slightly eccentric and very talkative woman–who didn’t care if my house was clean ;). She went out of her way to be kind to others, especially children and animals.  As a bonus, she was a talented painter.

Although my MIL grew up in Canada, when she was very young, she left for New York City to study at the Art Students League of New York, where she adopted the professional name Diana Dale.

Diana Dale 1947 roof of Art Students League of New York

While living in New York, her favorite subjects were of musical people (Broadway stars and jazz greats) and the people of her neighborhood, such as the Chinese man who ran the laundry she frequented. She hung out in Broadway theatres, painting actors like Katharine Cornell, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, and Ezio Pinza. This image is the best I could manage because the glare from the glass was terrible. It’s Patricia Morison, the star of the original Broadway cast of Kiss Me, Kate.

Patricia Morison Kiss Me Kate original Broadway cast

Patricia Morison Kiss Me Kate original Broadway cast

She also painted celebrities like Duke Ellington on the murals that graced the walls of the Birdland nightclub.

Duke Ellington from "The Birdland Story" Mural by Diana Dale

Duke Ellington from “The Birdland Story”
Mural by Diana Dale

I recently found a line written about her by the uber-famous Walter Winchell: “The Birdland walls are from the easel of Diana Dale, a part- time hatchick there.”Hatchick?! Well, I did know that she was a hatcheck girl and a cigarette girl in the Harlem clubs. Her murals created much of the visual ambiance of the Birdland. 

Billie Holiday from "The Birdland Story" Mural by Diana Dale

Billie Holiday from “The Birdland Story”
Mural by Diana Dale

Here is a photograph I found online of members of Stan Kenton’s band and Count Basie‘s Orchestra. I hope it’s ok to use this photo; I’ve linked to the site it comes from. It was signed to Gabe Baltazar (4th from left).



Notice that the Diana Dale painting on our left behind the men is one of Count Basie. The painting in the center is Dinah Washington. I’m not sure about the right; any ideas? Since the date associated with this photo is 1962, the murals must have stayed with the club until it was closed in 1965 (it has reopened since then).

For awhile, the paintings were in a temporary display at the Smithsonian. In the book The Birdland Story the Birdland murals are described this way:

These murals that you have viewed on the preceeding [sic] pages hang on the walls of the Birdland as a permanent exhibit. We have printed them in this book in answer to the many requests of Birdland patrons who have asked for copies. They are recognized as the finest collection of contemporary drawings of jazz personalities extant.

Jazz and art critics have hailed these works as the finest, therefore, it is with great pride that we have the exclusive privilege of presenting these wonderful copies in “The Birdland Story” to you, the coolest people in this gone world, our patrons and our fans.

All these drawings were conceived, designed and executed by Diana Dale.

Note: “gone” here is jazz slang and means fabulous.

I knew my MIL for thirty years. She painted until almost the end. But she never neglected her family, choosing to lavish them with her time. In a newspaper article about my MIL when my husband and his sister were about 7 and 3, she was asked: “When does a housewife and mother of two lively youngsters find time for painting?”

Miss Dale said that she does most of her painting late at night. She often gets very little sleep, she said, but that doesn’t seem to bother her. As she says, “Nothing worthwhile comes without hard work.”

More to come on my MIL and her work.


Filed under Art and Music, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Photographs, Research and prep for writing