• Nina Cherry

Charlotte Mansfield (1912–1985)

Biography courtesy of the Mansfield/Ashley family, cowritten and edited by Nina Cherry


About


Although she was born in Jefferson City, Charlotte Mansfield, pianist, composer and vocalist who entertained in clubs and on radio for three decades, was often considered Kansas City’s own by those in the entertainment world and those who admired her talent.


Charlotte might have been a national musical celebrity had she chosen to travel over the country. However, she said that her family at home came first and save for weekends, she remained on the home amusement front. Three engagements alone covered eight years of her career.


Photograph courtesy of the Mansfield/Ashley family

Charlotte Mansfield’s style was reminiscent of the Kansas City jazz tradition at large, deeply intertwined with the blues. Her bluesy and highly stylized approach to the piano in conjunction with her husky voice made Manfield a strong and highly sought after solo artist. She also frequently worked with small combos throughout her career. For a time, Pete McShann was a member of Mansfield's combo after leaving Oliver Todd's band (until 1956). Manfield certainly helped not only shape, but preserve the Kansas City style throughout her career that spanned three decades.


Mansfield was proud of her contributions to the Capitol Records album K.C. in the 30s, which also features some of her fellow artists, Jay McShann, Joshua Johnson, Baby Lovett, Walter Brown, and Julia Lee.


Credit for her rise in the entertainment arena goes to theseo according to the pianist, Julia Lee, who got her to substitute when she had other engagements, and John Tumino whom she said discovered her at a spot where she was getting $2.50 a night and got her a contract for $125 a week. Throughout her career, Mansfield and Lee were often billed together throughout the 1950s as recording stars after both singing to Capitol Records. After Lee's passing in 1958, Mansfield was then frequently billed with another female blues pianist and vocalist, Bumps "Bunnie" Love.

An advertisement for Julia Lee and Mansfield at the Hi Lounge in the Kansas City Star

Shortly after Mansfield started an engagement at the Gaslight Lounge, she said she would draw crowds up to one thousand, adding that requests for songs came at a fast clip. Some of her other engagements throughout her career included Villa's, Sharp Restaurants, lnterlude Club, Capitol Lounge, and Milton's.


Her appearances on television were with Randall Jessee and Jay Barrington on the Jack Boring and Jack Paar shows. Big hits on Capitol Records list "Wash Day Blues" which she composed; others include “Disillusioned,” "Living My Life for You," and “8-9-10.” Charlotte described her range of music as versatile. She played and sang jazz standards, Western tunes, boogie, and, of course, the blues. She was often billed as the "Girl of a Thousand Melodies".


Clipping from the Kansas City Call, courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library Special Collections

When she was four years old, Charlotte had a German-made piano and the late Ted Capleton, a piano man of renown, taught her to play "Give Me That Old Time Religion." Throughout her life, she continued to study with top-flight vocal and instrumental teachers.


Some of Mansfield’s regular engagements were at the Leopard Lounge and Can-Can before retiring in 1964. Charlotte Mansfield passed away on September 14, 1985 at the age of 72.


Listen


Mansfield performs (vocals and piano) "Living My Life For You" on Capitol Records' album K.C. in the 30s