NEW YORK – Hildegarde, the “incomparable” cabaret singer whose career spanned almost seven decades, has died. She was 99.
The performer, who was credited with starting the single-name vogue among entertainers, died Friday at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Hospital, said Don Dellair, her longtime friend and manager.
Born Hildegarde Loretta Sell in Adell, Wis., she was known for 70 years simply as “The Incomparable Hildegarde,” a title bestowed on her by columnist Walter Winchell.
During the peak of her popularity in the 1930s and ’40s, she was booked in cabarets and supper clubs at least 45 weeks a year. She appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1939, and her recordings sold in the hundreds of thousands. Revlon even introduced a Hildegarde shade of lipstick and nail polish.
“Hildegarde was perhaps the most famous supper-club entertainer who ever lived,” Liberace once said. “I used to absorb all the things she was doing, all the showmanship she created. It was marvelous to watch her, wearing elegant gowns, surrounded with roses and playing with white gloves on. They used to literally roll out the red carpet for her.”
Hildegarde’s admirers ranged from enlisted men and officers during World War II to King Gustaf of Sweden and the Duke of Windsor.
From the 1950s through the ’70s, in addition to her cabaret performances and record albums, she appeared in a number of television specials and toured with the national company of the Stephen Sondheim Musical “Follies.”
Her autobiography, “Over 50 …. So What!” was published by Doubleday in 1961.
Hildegarde accompanied herself on the piano and chatted between numbers, often poking fun at herself.
During a 1993 performance at Manhattan’s Algonquin Hotel, she said, “Wrinkle, wrinkle, leave me alone. Go and sliver Sharon Stone.”
Another cabaret legend, Bobby Short, who died this year at 80, once said, “Hers was the slickest nightclub act of all time.”
She leaves no immediate survivors, Dellair said.