The great masters: Virginia Bailey (Part 1)

Virginia Bailey (nicknamed “Ginger”) was born on September 21, 1928 in New York City as the third child of Charles Bailey and Ida Mayhew, two music teachers. Life would soon bring its share of challenges though, with her father leaving the family home in the late 1930’s, her brother being institutionalized due to tuberculosis, and her sister Frannie dying of pneumonia in 1938. On top of all that, Virginia got struck by lightning the previous winter, which left her with heart problems.

By 1942, a media campaign had been launched to encourage middle and upper class white women to enter the workforce to make up for the lack of men who were at war. Virginia dropped out of high school at age 14 and started working for a general contractor in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, who ended up using a photo of her while she was painting a house to advertise his business.

As fate would have it, the picture was noticed and Virginia was hired by famous costume designer Gilbert Adrian to become the model for his “Saint and Sinner” perfume line ad campaign, which ran in Vogue and Town and Country magazines from 1944 to 1946. She continued on her newly found modelling career and became the face for Charbert’s “Breathless…Fabulous” perfume line.

Virginia was able to move to New York’s Greenwich Village, where she played the guitar and performed folk songs at various local night clubs. There, at age 17, she met renown archaeologist and early Beat Circle member, Haldon Chase. Chase introduced her to his circle of literary friends, where her extrovert and spontaneous personality made quite an impression. With the end of the war in sight, Ginger’s family pressured her to leave her modeling and singing career in order to get married. She and Chase exchanged vows in 1945 after his graduation from Columbia University and the couple moved to his family’s home in Denver, Colorado.

Virginia took an active part in Chase’s field work and she followed him when he went to study the Zapotec language in Mexico. Not the sort of person to stay idle, she spent her time collecting Mexican folk songs, but Chase’s desire to have her focus on house tasks clashed with Virginia’s fierce independence, and the two eventually divorced in 1951.

When she returned to New York she started singing at the Village Vanguard, but needing a fresh start, she changed her professional name from Ginger Bailey to Ginny Mayhew around 1953 and spent about two years in the Caribbean performing songs at nightclubs in Haiti, Santa Domingo, and the U.S Virgin Islands.

Source: Aikido Journal

To be continued…

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