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What do you really know about Dayton's famous lounge singer?

Published: Wednesday, August 02, 2017 @ 6:00 AM
By: Amelia Robinson

Did bawdy Betty ever play. 

Betty Greenwood, with her sequined gowns and coiffed locks, kept Dayton entertained for more than six decades. 

The Dayton native’s trademark leg swing above the keyboard got crowds going every time. 

The lounge singer, born to Amos “Mack” and Myrtle McGriff on July 15, 1922, was playing the piano in her Kettering home just a week before her 2014 death and had organized a new musical group for local shows, according to her obituary.

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Greenwood — Dayton’s most well-known lounge singer throughout her life — mixed music, songs and often risque stories during her shows.

Susie McLaughlin, Greenwood’s longtime friend, caregiver and partner on stage of 14 years, called Greenwood “the master of the double entendre.”

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“She wouldn’t take you there,” McLaughlin told this news organization as part of an article on Greenwood’s death. “You would take yourself there.”

McLaughlin penned a 2003 book on Greenwood’s life called “The Betty Greenwood Story.”

Betty owned Cascades Nightclub on Salem Avenue in Dayton from 1959 until closing it in 1974. Sealed Budweiser cans containing beans sat on the bar’s tables and were used as noisemakers. 

Betty and her gang of players hosted an annual Ohio River boat trip aboard the “SS Jubilee” that a Dayton Daily News writer described as a “real ring-a-ding affair” in 1972.   

With Greenwood on one of two pianos, music started at 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and was non-stop until 2 a.m.

She performed at many of Dayton’s then-thriving supper and nightclubs, including Paul’s Cafe, Ranch House on Dixie Circle, the Tropics and John Smith's Brown Derby.

Most people raved about Betty, but her act was not everyone’s cup of tea. 

Then Journal Herald Columnist P.J. Bednarski was definitely not a fan. See his full Sept. 4, 1975 review below.  

“Most of what Miss Greenwood jokes about on stage is unprintable. Actually, most of what she says on stage is unspeakable, and that is her problem. But it is inconceivable that she has lived in the same world as you and I.” 

Here are 6 things to know about Betty Greenwood.

1.) SHE STARTED EARLY  

Betty’s mother Myrtle introduced her to show business when she was just 1 year old. 

Myrtle took money from her husband's pants and made Betty a dress so she could enter her in a citywide beautiful baby contest, according to a 2006 article by legendary Dayton Daily News writer Jim Nichols. 

Betty was victorious.

Betty’s life in music was launched when she was 6, with lessons on the piano from a woman named Alberta Culph, according to Nichols’ reporting.

Her dad, Mack McGriff, was in several local bands and played 11 instruments. 

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Mack’s company built some of the early houses in Dayton's Westwood neighborhood. 

Shortly after high school, Betty played in her first club, the former Paul's Cafe at 3038 E. Third St. She retired at least four times

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2.) THE STARS CAME TO HER

During her decades-long career in entertainment, Betty put smiles on thousands of faces and met and befriended some of the biggest names on stage and screen who visited as part of the Kenley Players shows. 
They’d swing by Greenwood’s club after performances.

She knew Burt Reynolds, Liberace and a long list of other performers.

“The stars would do their shows and then come to her club,” McLaughlin said. “They loved her.”

3.) SHE APPRECIATED TALENT 

Betty had a reputation for showcasing talent at the Cascades. 

In 1961, she gave Roosevelt High School graduate Bobbie Nell Brookshire Gordon a break. 

The jazz singer — who would later be dubbed "the Brown Bombshell" —  caught the attention of legendary bandleader Duke Elllington at Betty’s club. 

"She had a contract with me, but I said if it meant you touring with Duke Ellington, I wouldn't want to stand in the way of that," Betty told this news organization as part of a 2003 article about Gordon’s death. 

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Gordon toured with Ellington from 1970 to 1974, the year of Ellington’s death.

Other notable people who played at the Cascades include: Norma Paulus (aka Big Red), Lenny Davis, Cliff Bailey, Lincoln Berry and Eddie Herring — who, along with his wife, was murdered in an unsolved gangland-type slaying in 1973.

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4.) SHE RETIRED AT LEAST FOUR TIMES 

Betty retired from public appearances in 2007 at age 85. She had retired more than a few times before that. 

In 2002, Nichols wrote about Betty’s third retirement. 

Her final show was supposed to be at the Trolley Stop in the Oregon District, where she had performed monthly. 

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Betty’s first retirement was in 1973. She moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., but it didn’t stick.

She soon had a trio performing at the Hilton Inn's Thunderbird Lounge.

5.) VERA WAS HER BESTIE 

Vera Huffman was Betty's all-time bestie, according to Nichols’ articles.

Vera and Betty sold real estate and jewelry together and were partners in the Cascades. Betty wanted her own club. 

"Millie Schlechty had the Cascades on Salem alone, because her husband, Glenn, had died. She didn't want to sell, but I talked her into it," she told Nichols in 1991. 

The pals moved to Florida, where Vera’s children lived. Betty’s mom moved with them.

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By 1982, Myrtle had become increasingly ill, so Betty and Vera, who died in 2000, moved back to Dayton. The city always called her home. 

“You can call me a dyed-in-the-wool Daytonian, no ifs or buts about it. I've traveled throughout the United States, but wherever I go, I just come come home to God's country — Dayton,” Betty says in her book.

6.) IT WAS AN ACT

Betty was far from the happy-go-lucky, swinging pianist with the raucous voice when she left the stage, according to a 1965 profile. 

She whipped up creamy chocolate souffles and mouth-watering banana pies. 

She was described as a “quiet grandmother” who loved to “cook and sit quietly, reading or painting or just relaxing with her children,” the article says. 

“My entire life is built around my two sons and my three grandchildren,” Betty said. “I assume a completely different personality when I go to work, and I’m sure my customers wouldn’t know me here.”