Star of Broadway's HELLAZPOPPIN, June Winters Dies at 96

By: Sep. 08, 2015

It has been confirmed that June Winters, widow of legendary songwriter and record producer Hugo Peretti, and famous in her own right as the "Lady in Blue" on both radio and records, died March 29 of natural causes at her home in Bergenfield, NJ. She was 96.

Winters was born in Hazleton, PA on May 17, 1918 and was a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She got her big break as featured vocalist in the original Broadway production of the Olsen and Johnson musical revue "Hellazpoppin," which opened at the 46th St. Theatre (now the Richard Rodgers) in 1938. She was with the show for its entire three-year run, moving to the Winter Garden and Majestic Theatres, where it closed in 1941 after 1404 performances, breaking the record for long runs. It was one of only three shows from the entire decade of the 1930's to run more than 500 performances. Winters also remained with the production for its national tour.

With the outbreak of World War II, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company was unable to leave England, and an American producer named R. H. Burnside created the Boston Comic Opera Company to fill the gap. Winters became one of its stars and toured major cities throughout the country, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., singing soprano leads in such Gilbert and Sullivan operettas as "The Mikado," "Pirates of Penzance," "H.M.S. Pinafore," "Iolanthe" and "Yeoman of the Guard". She also played cabaret engagements at such popular clubs as No. One Fifth Ave. and performed in stage shows at Radio City Music Hall.

In 1943, she met and married trumpet player Hugo Peretti, who played in various orchestras and also wrote songs with his cousin, Luigi Creatore. In 1946, Winters and Peretti got the idea to tap into the new post-war children's market, forming Mayfair Records and creating Winters' signature character, the "Lady in Blue," who sang and spoke directly to the children in a warm and ingratiating voice and was pictured on the colorful jackets as a kind of blue fairy. On dozens of releases, which sold in the hundreds of thousands, she would begin each musical adventure with "Hello children, this is your Lady in Blue. Would you like to take a trip with me on a magic carpet?" Or "Would you like to hear a story about a whale?" Or "Would you like to go to Coney Island?" Another innovation was pressing the records on a form of plastic called "unbreakable vinylite," which was new to the business and solved the problem of brittle 78's. The "Lady in Blue" was equally popular on radio, where she could develop lengthier stories. In 1950, they moved over to the larger Mercury Records, where Peretti became an A&R producer and Winters helped develop Mercury's Playcraft and Childcraft children's labels. She continued to write and record special material for them, with such classic releases as "Kiddie Konga," "Land of Hatchy Milatchy" and "Little Willie, the Leader of the Band". They provided the first phonograph listening experience for an entire generation and helped make children's records an important part of the industry.

Peretti and Creatore, meanwhile, formed a songwriting team in the 1950's known as "Hugo and Luigi," becoming important producers and writers for such labels as Mercury, Roulette and RCA Victor. Among their hits were Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," Jimmie Rodgers' "Honeycomb" and "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," Mickey and Sylvia's "Love is Strange," and the Tokens' "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Winters had retired from performing in order to raise her children, but continued to assist them with their various projects, including the 1968 Broadway musical "Maggie Flynn" starring Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy.

Peretti died in 1986. Winters was pre-deceased by a daughter, Kathy Peretti, but is survived by daughter Tina Marie Peretti, son-in-law Robert Acuti, grandson Paul, and cousin Luigi.