Fern Eddy Schultz recounts the life of Martha Nash, vocalist from the Big Band era

Fern Eddy Schultz

Written by Fern Eddy Schultz, La Porte County Historian

Just recently, one of the “regulars” at the Oasis Ballroom in Michigan City passed away—Martha Keserich-Vance, known to most as Martha Nash.  I thank Patty Nocek of the La Porte County Health Department for sharing Martha’s obituary.

Martha sang regularly at the Oasis Ballroom in Michigan City with the Mickey Isley band and also at the Aragon and Trianon Ballrooms in Chicago.  She was well-known for her renditions of “The Muffin Man,” “Sugar Blues” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.”  Of course, in demand at all of her appearances was her favorite song “Martha” and the audiences always expected her rendition at every performance.

She was born in Gary, of Austrian-Croatian parents, one of 12 children.  She attended and graduated from the now-closed Gary Emerson High School.  While there, she sang in school choirs and played several wind instruments.  She was reportedly always very musically oriented.  After graduation, she went to work in the offices of U. S. Steel’s Gary Works.  During the Great Depression, she participated with two other singers and they called themselves the Nash Sisters.  Martha decided to keep the name Nash after this trio disbanded.

She never had any professional singing lessons, but listened to many recordings of the then-popular female vocalists.  She was then the featured singer with big bands and went on the circuit which included Chicago, Gary, Michigan City and South Bend.  In 1944, she was along with Mickey Isley’s band when opening the 10th consecutive season at the Oasis Ballroom.  The band also made regular appearances at Chicago’s Edgewater Beach Hotel, the Stevens Hotel and the Shoreland Hotel in Hyde Park.  They were also regularly featured at the Marquette Park Pavilion in Miller and the Hotel Gary, in downtown Gary.

She married William Vance and they had two children.  Martha died May 25, 2019 at the age of 104 in her Miller Beach home where she had lived more than 60 years.

The Mickey Isley band broke up in the 1960s when big bands were becoming a “thing of the past.” As early as 1925, Mickey was playing for vaudeville acts in the Gary area.  It was said his 10-piece organization sounded like 20.  He set a rule that the band would not play any further than 100 miles from Gary.  The band’s dance dates included most of the major high school proms in the Calumet area, a lot of dance dates in South Bend and some at Purdue University in Lafayette.  The band even played a season at the “big theater” in La Porte.

He became acquainted with Gene Cook, leader of the Cathcart brothers’ band and numerous others who shared the Oasis platform on various nights.  He became a good friend of Harold Barr, who operated the Oasis and the Lakeview Amusements Co. For some years, his band would play a Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday schedule at the Oasis.  This later got cut down to just weekends.

In an interview in 1988 with Henry Lange of the Michigan City News-Dispatch, Isley said all of this was a lot of fun but it provided something else—“an income for its members during the days of the Great Depression, when the steel industry was down but people still found time to dance.”

Malcolm H. “Mickey” Isley was born in Oxford, Butler County, OH on March 25, 1908.   At the time of his death on February 22, 2000, at the age of 91, he was still playing his slide trombone as a member of the Rusty Pipes, a German-music band.

One Response to “Fern Eddy Schultz recounts the life of Martha Nash, vocalist from the Big Band era”

  1. Greg Fruth

    May 04. 2020

    During our lockdown, being able to go to school with Fern’s articles is so appreciated. Thanks, Fern.

    Reply to this comment

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