Once described by a critic as ‘a champion of the anti-belter school’, Mavis Rivers was one of 13 musically gifted children in a Mormon family of British, French, Swiss, Chinese and Samoan origins. Her career as a jazz singer began at the start of World War II when she entertained American troops stationed in Pago Pago; in post-war Auckland, she became a nightclub singer, popular broadcaster and one of New Zealand’s most popular women jazz singers. Mid-career she moved between New Zealand, and America where she worked with some big names in jazz – Frank Sinatra, describing her as having ‘the purest voice in jazz’, compared her to Ella Fitzgerald. She married, continued the family tradition of producing successful musical children, but returned frequently to New Zealand. She continued performing until her death after a show. Not long before, after a fellow singer died on-stage, Rivers had remarked that it would be ‘a great way to go’.
© 2016 The New Zealand Portrait Gallery Trust