Born in San Francisco, jazz singer Ruth Olay's family moved to Los Angeles when she was eighteen months old. Her father was a rabbi, her mother a singer. While still a teenager in the 1940s she sang with Benny Carter's great band. A major fixture of the Hollywood nightclub scene in the mid-1950s, in the latter part of that decade Olay parlayed her regional popularity into national and international recognition on television, recordings and in major nightclubs throughout the US and abroad.
Today Ruth Olay is retired from singing and in recent years has turned her attention more in the direction of social activism on various commissions for aging, the homeless, etc.. Also if you looked closely you could have spotted her in the crowd outside of Los Angeles' Dorothy Chandler, in 1999, protesting Elia Kazan's Lifetime Achievement Oscar.
Not long ago I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time. Initially I made her acquaintance on the telephone when I interviewed her for the Christmas issue of Songbirds internet magazine. Her iconoclastically terse reply to the "What Was Your Favorite Xmas?" question was a bracing anodyne to the lacryrmal prolixity of some of the other singers queried on the Christmas issue. To whit: "Last year when I took a cruise to Hong Kong and happily avoided the holiday season altogether."
And in general, we hit it off so well on the phone that we decided to go for a more extensive interview. We set our luncheon date for dreaded Superbowl Sunday 2000. What better way to avoid that odious occasion, the day of the year with the highest rate of male-to-female spousal abuse than to spend it with such a notable interpreter of American Popular Song? Face to face formalities out of the way, at a Venice, California restaurant, I gave her a copy of my (then) new book, "Early Plastic," and, in return, she gifted me with a videotape copy of an appearance on the Merv Griffin show of 30 or so odd years ago. Watching it a few days later it was immediately apparent to me why she had such a long run in nightclubs, with her career as "live" performer ultimately turning out to be more successful than her recording work. On television the sleek, soigne, statuesque, sultry, sophisticated (if the alliteration fits. . .) Olay proved astonishingly adept at transcending the two-dimensional limitations of the medium. Her records are a delight to be sure, but untimately she perhaps falls into the category of Must Be Seen To Be Heard. ...