Sunday, October 14, 2012

Margaret Coffey (Pauline "Moe" Cole in Maggie Cassidy)

I have a great deal of things  I have been trying to track down relating to Lowell. One is Margaret Coffey who is called "Pauline "Moe" Cole" in the novel Maggie Cassidy. Many biographers take Kerouac's word for gospel and repeat it in their book without fact-checking first. I may have done the same with her, I don't remember.

Over the years I have done random research in Lowell and online, and not much had turned up. Today I found this, which makes me wonder if I am in fact wrong. This Margaret Coffey, indeed born in Lowell would have made her about seven years older than Jack when he was introduced to her in Lowell.

I intend on contacting the poster at this geneaological site to see maybe if I can come up with a bit more information.

My skimming through the newspaper archives does have numerous mentions of a "Margaret Coffey" winning various singing contests around town. Could there have been two Margaret Coffeys?

Why not?

There was another "Gerard Kerouack"in the 1920s as well as a "Leo Kerouack" both from Lowell, Massachusetts.

UPDATE: So then another search on the Internet now disqualifies the woman up top, for now we have a Margaret Coffey born in Lowell in the same year as Kerouac, 1922. Since I am too cheap to subscribe to every site offering further information, I have a few more names to go on at thevery least to see if I can locate where she went. Most biographers unequivocally assume she went on to sing with Benny Goodman, which is news to many jazz historians who have no such records.

82 First Street, where she apparently lived in 1940 according to the U.S. census is located in Centralville. It is a 2-family residence built in 1890  that still stands today.

So where did she go? Did she keep in touch with Jack?

I next found mention of a "Peggy Coffey" advertised as a beautiful "songstress in a Bryant College (Providence, Rhode Island) newsletter from May 1946.

Is this going anywhere? I prefer to keep looking, because this is what it is all about, researching, digging, and then maybe I can finally write with authority who this girl was instead of repeating the biographers like Joyce Johnson, in the newest biography of Kerouac, who just blindly states that Coffey sang with Benny Goodman without a shred of proof (other than relying on Maggie Cassidy as her principal source). Because, so far I haven't seen any evidence of it. This is NOT TO SAY IT ISN'T TRUE! It's just that I haven't seen the evidence to back it up. Sometimes I fell into this trap when i was working on my biography. But hey, it was my first book, I did what I felt was my best effort. Now I know so much more. 

I am warmer now on Peggy Coffey's trail. 

The Bilboard on February 16, 1946 writes from New York that a "Cavalcade of canaries whirs merrily on. Newest replacements in band vocal departments include Peggy Coffey, who had taken over Jeanne Berkley's chores with the Bobby Byrne band ..." By June 1946 the same rag states that a singer named Karen Rich has replaced Peggy Coffey as the "canary" for Bobby Byrn. The Nashua Telegraph lists Coffey as a vocalist for the Vic Roy Orchestra on December 12, 1946. 

If this is the one and the same, she seemed to have been barely getting by via minor league Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw knock-offs, not the big men themselves. 

Still, I am not 100% positive. However, someone, somewhere, that knows their big bands and jazz would have documented this. I find nothing.

I will keep on this.

UPDATE [October 16, 2012]:

Dave Moore updates with this:

Peggy Coffey appeared with Bobby Byrne at the Roseland Palace, New York, May 23, 1946. The Billboard review includes:
“in the minus department is girl vocalist Peggy Coffey who still has to learn such fundamentals of chirping as breath-control. Gal tries hard but doesn’t have the voice nor experience to get over. Byrne might do better to use her less frequently.”
Around the same time she appeared as vocalist on a record by Bobby Byrne: “Ridin’ On A Summer Afternoon” / “Whatta Ya Gonna Do”.
It seems that Byrne replaced her with Karen Rich shortly after this, and Peggy joined the Vic Roy Orchestra later that year. 

Dave even tracked down a 78 RPM record she did with Bobby Byrne that recently sold on Ebay (her name is even featured on the label!):

Cosmo Records
Bobby Byrne & his orchestra 
A 78 rpm record

"Whatta Ya Gonna Do" - vocal by Peggy Coffey

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