Sunday, April 21, 2013


While out estate saling last Friday, I stopped at a sale in Mehlville.  While I was browsing, I heard people talking about the owner of the home being a local coach.  His name was Coach Raymond Cliffe and after doing a little research found he was well known and fondly remembered in the high school level sports scene, having taught over 40 years from 1948 through 1992.  In fact, he was inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.  He was also a locally exhibited artist, helping design the scenery for the first holiday lights show at Tilles Park in Ladue.  The Post-Dispatch wrote a nice article on him when he passed.

But with all due respect, this blog is not about Coach Clifffe.  It's about his wife.

While rummaging through a box of photos and various ephemera, I came across what appeared to be publicity photos for a Miss Shirley White.

She was born Shirley Weiss (White was her stage name, perhaps "Weiss" being a little too German that soon after World War II) in 1927. She married Ray Cliffe on May 9th, 1949. She passed away December 13, 2002. Anything beyond that will be conjecture on my part. You see, there isn't much information available on Shirley. Google has failed me.

But from the photos, it's apparent she was a featured singer with Phil Levant and his Orchestra. Who was Phil Levant? Google fails me again. Outside of a few archived newspaper articles, some autographed photos and a mention that he wrote the music for the Marquette Victory March for Marquette University, there's no further information.

Digging further into the box of loose photographs, I came across some night club photos taken of Shirley and gang.  The first up is from Riviera-on-the-Lake in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and is a photograph of Shirley with the Phil Levant Orchestra.  Shirley and Phil are second and third from the left respectively.

This picture was taken July 28th, 1948

An interesting note on the back of this photograph holder:

The Colony Club - McClure, Illinois

Shirley looks really young here.  No idea who her bow-tied friend is.  The Colony Club was destroyed by a fire in 1959.

Chicago's China Doll

Inside, the inscription in the left corner reads, "To my future secretary and a very pretty girl -- don't forget the postcards! Tom" and in the right, "Remember the time we met this "character"?  Bud P.S. We did have fun!"

Shirley is on the left, of course.  Phil is second from the right, nursing what appears to be a cold Schlitz.

The Lake Club in Springfield, Illinois.  It also burned down.  This one in 1992 and is now reputedly haunted.

Shirley at the far left.  I believe that's Phil on her left, but I'm not positive.

The Plantation in Houston, Texas.

Shirley and Phil on the left.

John Dotson's Famous Blue Moon. So famous, I can't find a thing about it on the internet.  But I love the cover.

Hey pal, get your meathooks offa the dish!  Here we find Phil enjoying a Coke.  Kansas was a dry state until 1948.

Among the pictures, I also found a couple of Western Union Telegrams. These were sent to the Blackhawk Restaurant in Chicago.

Shhhh...  If you listen carefully, you can hear Martin's heart breaking...

A couple of hometown folks with some interesting names dropped her a line as well, addressed to her real name to let her know in no uncertain terms they knew her when...

There was also an envelope for Western Union. I'd never seen one before.

The ancestor of the pop-up ad

Google did provide a postcard and a few vintage pictures of The Blackhawk Restaurant

Today it's a Loft Women's Clothing store.

In case you want to walk around what was The Blackhawk Restaurant.

Among the boxes of papers, I found a few menus Shirley had kept as mementos including two from The Blackhawk Restaurant.

After gathering up all the related ephemera I could find, I moved on to the other rooms.  One room contained a large collection of records.  Among them, I found original audition cuts of Shirley singing with The Phil Levant Orchestra. 

One of the record sleeves has a note to not play the record after 10:00 p.m. due to union rules, unless, of course, you're paid overtime:

Some warnings about using alternative needles:

I transferred the records to mp3 and have uploaded them below.  The quality isn't great, but I did what I could.  I've provided both the raw and the cleaned up tracks.  The quality of some of the records is pretty poor so noise reduction worked better on some than others and there are a few skips here and there.  But take a listen, because I think they are worth it and I think Shirley deserves to be heard:

There were a few tracks tracks that that didn't feature Shirley.  Some were instrumental only and others featured a male singer.  The male singer may be Jose Chavez who sings with Shirley on Tampico or it could be Lee Shearin who was also billed with Shirley.
Whole World (Original)
Whole World (Noise Reduction)
If It Ain't Wrong, It's Right (Original)  I'm sure I've heard this played on a Bugs Bunny cartoon
If It Ain't Wrong, It's Right (Noise Reduction)
Long, Long Time (Original) I would have loved to have heard Shirley sing this
Long, Long Time (Noise Reduction)

Even through all of the crackling, hissing and popping, it's evident Shirley was a talented singer.  Unfortunately, when these records were made the Big Band sound and Swing Era were fading.  In 1948, because of musicians' union strikes, there were no records made and I imagine it had a similar impact on the night club business. When the ban was over in January 1949, the Swing Era was over and Rock 'n Roll was on the horizon.

Did Shirley quit because of the musician's strike? Or did she quit to marry Coach Cliffe and raise a family? Or was it a combination of both?  Like I said, it's mainly conjecture.  But there's one thing I do know: Shirley, I heard you sing tonight and baby, it was beautiful.


  1. this is an amazing find, and a nice writeup, too. it's gonna take me a bit to work through it all... such a nice slice-of-a-life peek... she was apparently pretty well-known in her own right, and her voice is really great. i also love the insight into behind the scenes of the entertainment life during the big-band era.

  2. by the way, the "if it ain't wrong, it's right" links don't seem to work. : (

  3. Did you notice the "injunbar" at the bottom of the marquee? Think they serve fire water there?

    1. Odd, they have the "Indian Room", but the "Injun Bar".

  4. Debbie Cliffe-DriverMay 3, 2013 at 7:57 PM

    I'm Ray and Shirley's daughter. Tom did where you a student at CHS, player or friend of my dad? This is terrific!!I'm the youngest daughter and was searching web when I ran across your blog.

    1. Debbie, I'm so glad you discovered this blog. I was hoping one of Shirley's children would find it.

      I wasn't a student at CHS or a friend of your father's. I just stumbled onto these at your father's estate sale and was just taken with the pictures and the music. I'm a fan of that era and I feel like your mother really had a story to tell.

      I'd love to talk more with you about her career. You can email me at

  5. Debbie Cliffe-DriverMay 3, 2013 at 8:00 PM

    My father told my mother she has to fulfill their marriage contract than traveling around with the orchestra. My mother loved signing. They had 7 kids and Shirley stayed home to raise them instead.

  6. Debbie Cliffe-DriverMay 4, 2013 at 9:04 AM

    She died December 13,2002. Last name Weiss. Stage name White.

    1. Thanks, Debbie. I will update the date of her passing. So much for!

  7. Hi ,
    Phil Levant is my grandfather. He was a big band leader during the 30's and 40's He hired Shirley to play in his band. He also played for Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. He is also arranged a lot of music that you can find on ebay. He was a big chicago celebrity in his day.
    So not you know who he is. Best, Ginger Levant

    1. Hi Ginger, I'm so glad you dropped a line. It's great to get more information on your grandfather. Through this blog I was also able to sit down and speak with Shirley's son. I'd love to hear any more information you have on Shirley and your grandfather. You can write me at Thanks!

  8. Hi, I found your blog very interesting. I bought a bunch of old Billboard Magazines at an auction recently. I have been listing them on eBay in the hope of finding their homes. One of them went to the grandson of an old band leader! I have one with Phil Levant on the cover from 1940 and wound my way to your site. Thanks for the extra information.


    1. Hi Dianne, thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the blog. Phil Levant's granddaughter Ginger actually commented just above your comment, she might be interested in the magazine.

  9. I love this post. That's what we're here for -- to sustain the memories of folks like Shirley White, who might have otherwise been forgotten. I want to know more about her!

    1. Thanks, Chris. Through this blog, I was able to sit down with Shirley's son and learn a little more about her. She lived a long and good life with a large family. He said she never talked about her days as a nightclub singer, but always sung around the house.

  10. Hi Diane,
    If you still have that magazine with Phil Levant on the cover, he is my grandfather, can you please contact me at
    Ginger Levabt

  11. Hi, I’m going through tons of photos and papers and found a TABLE TENT that reads “The Tulsa Club presents the Nationally famous orchestra PHIL LEVANT featuring Sibbie Simmons George Wald plus McDonald & Ross. Sonya & Delange
    Sibbie Simmons was my mother. Does anyone know any of the other people?

    1. I only know of Phil Levant. His grand-daughter Ginger Levant commented above. She didn't leave an email, but maybe you can find track her down through Google or Facebook.


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