You Haven’t Heard “Exactly Like You” Until You’ve Heard Helen Humes Singing It

Exactly Like You, Helen Humes, 3:49, 165 BPM

At SwingIN, one of the DJs (I think it was Celia – I need to keep better track of these things!) played this awesome, energetic version of “Exactly Like You.” Now, there are about a million covers of this standard, from everyone from Dizzy Gillespie to Count Basie to soul singers like Nina Simone and Sam Cooke. The version I hear most at swing events is Carmen McRae’s, which is an easy 140 BPM, has a sick bass line, and features some sweet piano in between Carmen’s vocals. But after hearing this new version come on at SwingIN, I had to go ask the DJ just who was that? 

After doing a bit of research, I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of Helen Humes before. Not only was she a talented jazz vocalist who started recording as a teenager and became a regular at the Cincinnati Cotton Club, Count Basie discovered her in Cincinnati and asked her to join his orchestra to replace Billie Holiday. (Now that’s the kind of discovered-talent story that should make the news!) Humes toured with the Count Basie Orchestra for four years, from 1938 to 1942, where she sang mostly ballads and popular songs.

The video below shows her singing “I Cried For You” with Basie’s smaller orchestra in the 1950s (also worth watching for a killer tenor sax solo from Wardell Gray and Buddy DeFranco on clarinet), and I love that you can see Basie’s huge smile when Humes starts singing. It seems clear that they shared a deep love of jazz music. Later on, Helen Humes helped to bridge the gap between big band swing and rhythm and blues (her jump blues tune “Million Dollar Secret” is her most famous today), making her an important figure in the history of American vernacular music.

The song I’m featuring today, Helen Humes’ “Exactly Like You,” was recorded at a live concert in Paris in 1974. The song has an infectious energy and just swings harder and harder as it goes, which is just what I like to hear. It’s really pleasing to hear how her vocals differ from Carmen McRae’s version and play around with rhythm. I used to think “Exactly Like You” was kind of annoying because I always heard the same version, but Helen Humes made me love it again!

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