‘And the Angels Sing’ … Uncle Ben, Sinatra & the Kings of Swing!

Frank Sinatra, Kings of Swing

Remembering my Uncle, Benny Heller, making music with the 1940’s greats, the Kings of Swing!

uncle, Kings of Swing

Uncle Ben was a Jazz Guitarist, first with the Benny Goodman Orchestra & then with Harry James & his Music Makers in the Big Band Swing Era, and got to play with many of the “Kings of Swing.” And, when I knew him, he wore the gold watch Frank Sinatra gave him.

Kings of Swing

Frank Sinatra

In 1940, after Sinatra had achieved some success, my Uncle interviewed young Frankie at The Steel Pier in Atlantic City on an acetate record waxing nostalgic about their early Band Days together.

Even though it wasn’t my era, I didn’t realize that Uncle Ben’s bands played  the very same music that I danced my heart out to like “Sing, Sing, Sing”, “You Made Me Love You”, “It Had To Be You” & of course, “And The Angels Sing”!

He played with guys with funny sounding names like Bunny Bengan, Toots Mondello, Zoot Zims & Ziggy Elman!

Besides the Hep Cats with funny names, Uncle Ben played with biggies like Stan Getz, Charlie Teagarden, Singer, Dick Haymes & the legendary drummer – Gene Krupa!

Uncle Ben wasn’t family then, but later on in life with his Stage, Film & Recording Career & 1st marriage behind him, Ben Heller married my vivacious Aunt Evelyn in the late 1950’s.


When they first met, she was the typical ‘wealthy widow on a Cruise’ when he caught her eye while playing guitar for the dancers & romancers on a 1950’s floating fun barge! 

I think the attraction may have been that he wanted stability & a lot of fun & well…he came to the right place – my Aunt!

author at 13
Me at around 13 & Aunt Evelyn ready to Hula!   

And, she wasn’t even a Blood relative of mine – her deceased husband was my Uncle Joe!  She just kept on seeing us with her new husband in tow.

I have a feeling every family has these ‘outsiders’ that keep showing up but you don’t know why!  haha

I happened to have a special bond with her, as she was my sole caregiver at 6 years old for a time while my family was going thru a rough spot.  I loved her but I didn’t know why!  haha

Aunt Evelyn was the Party Giver & Life of any Party – who played piano & sang & insisted everyone join in no matter what era those songs belonged – you know ‘Oldies but Oldies’! 

Don’t worry, she handed out ‘Cheat Sheets’!

To appreciate the contrast in personalities – my Blood relatives on that side were genteel, quiet & reserved, but obviously Evelyn had a quest to change all that!  She stood out at every gathering where doing ‘the Hula’ was inevitable – something like ‘Auntie Mame on Crack’!  haha

I just knew Uncle Ben in his later years as a heck of a Traveling Salesman for Gretsch Musical Instruments, with my hometown of D.C. as his home base – who happened to play music with The Greats, the Kings of Swing, a decade or two earlier.

They were married over 30 years & after he left us, I learned he was preparing his entrance into ‘Stand-Up Comedy’ where he belonged.  He had the personality for it – he just ran out of time.

And when he played guitar for us, it was heaven.  You could tell by his first bell-tone dulcet note – here’s a professional who had years of being the best at what they do.

Through the years, I’ve been tickled when I could pick out Uncle Ben in movies & 3 times in the captivating 2015 HBO 2 Part Documentary, “Sinatra, All Or Nothing At All”!

As long as I knew him he had a smile, a quip & a joke up his sleeve – Uncle Ben was the Coolest Cat in our lives!

Frank Sinatra, Kings of Swing

Marilyn Sands