Adele Girard Marsala (June 25, 1913 – September 7, 1993 in Denver, Colorado) was a jazz harpist associated with the Dixieland and swing (genre)s.
She is the first woman to bring the concert harp to prominence in jazz, with only Casper Reardon predating her. As a musician she is known by her birth name "Adele Girard", but she became "Adele Girard Marsala" on marriage to jazz clarinetist Joe Marsala.
Adele Girard's father, Leon, was a superb violinist who conducted and played in the pit band for silent movies at the Bijou Theater in Holyoke, MA. Additionally he conducted the Holyoke City Band and the Springfield Broadcast Symphony. Adele's mother, Eleisa Noel Girard was a talented pianist who had studied opera and was offered a scholarship to La Scala in Italy, though she had to turn it down because she was unable to afford the trip. She taught both her children, Adele and son Don, how to play piano. The four-year-old Adele accompanied her uncles as they sang First World War songs, K-K-K-Katie and Over There. "I played very simply," said Adele, "but I played all the right notes." At age fourteen, Adele was introduced to and initially taught the harp by Alice Mikus who played occasionally with Leon Girard in the Broadcast Symphony.
Girard's big break came in 1933 when she was hired as a singer/pianist with the Harry Sosnik orchestra in Chicago. Sosnik provided a harp for her when he discovered from her mother that she could play that instrument. She went on to play with the Dick Stabile orchestra in NYC and in 1936, the Three Ts, the Teagarden brothers and Frank Trumbauer at the Hickory House in New York City on 52nd Street. When the Ts went on the road Adele worried that she would not be able to continue payments on her first harp. She asked the proprietor of the Hickory House to keep her on. He introduced her to Joe Marsala and she was hired to play in the Marsala band in 1937. "If it hadn't been for Joe I would have been a big nobody," said Adele who later married Marsala, "he gave me and many other musicians our first chance." Drummers Buddy Rich and Shelley Manne, guitarist Charlie Byrd, pianist Gene DiNovi, trumpeter Neal Hefti, are some of those Marsala introduced. Adele could hold her own with these jazz greats, she composed, arranged and played an outstanding Boogie-Woogie for the classical harp(see Adele Girard, YouTube). She had perfect pitch and could improvise any tune on the spot. Among her fans were James Bond author, Ian Fleming, and movie star Harpo Marx, who wanted her to give him lessons. "Jazz isn't something you can teach," Adele told Marx, "you have to feel jazz." Indeed that was the way she had learned simply by sitting in with the band and using her improvisational skills. The Marsalas remained as the core of the very successful house band at the Hickory House for 10 years.
After her marriage to Joe in 1937, Adele also spent time in California where she screen-tested for the role of Scarlett O'Hara and had a minor role in a film. She hadn't yet told her parents nor had the public been informed of the wedding. "In those days you didn't mention marriage if you were a public figure lest it spoil your image," she said. After she told her parents, Adele's mother was worried that the marriage to an Italian might result in disaster, but she changed her mind after meeting Marsala and discovering what a genuinely nice man he was and how well he and Adele were suited to each other. The marriage to Joe would prove to be beneficial in part because both musicians were Catholic; the couple was married for forty years.
As the popular taste in jazz moved to Bop in the mid-1940s, the Marsalas realized that they enjoyed the style of music that they produced and they were reluctant to change. After composing a hit song,Don't Cry Joe, recorded by Frank Sinatra, Joe moved with Adele and their daughter Eleisa, to Aspen, Colorado in 1949. Joe wrote songs for a musical about the town and Adele performed the leading role and continued to play harp with Joe at local venues. It was in Aspen that Joe wrote And So To Sleep Again, his final hit which was recorded by Patti Page. The multi-talented Adele was not only adept at playing piano and harp. In Aspen she brought all her abilities as organist for the church choir, equestrienne and horse trainer, and crackerjack skier as well as singer and performer to the fore.
Though somewhat inactive in the late 1950s and early 60s Adele recorded with Joe in NYC and subsequently with his protégé, Bobby Gordon in Chicago. In the late 1960s the couple moved to California where she did a production in LA and in London of "The Fantastiks" with John Ritter. In the 1970s and 80s Adele played solo harp in various restaurants from Palm Desert, CA to Seattle, WA and she was often featured with the Murray Corda Orchestra. She continued to perform on harp after Joe's death from cancer in 1978. An interest in the Dalmatian breed led her to raise and train seven of these dogs through midlife and into her later years. She remained active in a longtime passion, ice skating, and took up tennis. After two strokes and at age 78, Adele recorded a CD with Bobby Gordon. Don't Let It End, the title song being Joe's tribute to the swing era, was recorded in Newport Beach, CA in 1991 for Arbors Jazz . Adele Girard Marsala died in Denver, CO in 1993 of congestive heart failure.