Louise Tobin, a life well lived
By Abigail Allen
Louise Tobin lived an extraordinary life.
The Big Band jazz singer, who sang with the likes of Louis Armstrong and who was born to the youngest daughter of the founders of Aubrey on Nov. 11, 1918, died on Saturday.
"She was a quality entertainer, and she was gorgeous and she had incredible talents," her son Harry J. James said. "No matter what was ever offered to her, she always made sure that my little brother and I were at the top of her priority list."
Born Mary Louise Tobin, she was the granddaughter of L.N. Edwards.
"She was singing the day she was born," her granddaughter Karen James Casteel said, adding that her son has taken after his great-grandmother. "… Like she said, she fell out of the crib singing."
At 15, she won the chance to tour interstate theaters, according to the "Aubrey History Book," and her sister Dorothy "Dora" Tobin traveled with her as her chaperone.
She met and married her first husband, Harry H. James, in 1935 when she was 15 and he was 19, when they both performed together.
Tobin sang with such big names as Benny Goodman and Buddy Hackett and was a star in her own right.
She also encouraged her first husband to contact a young singer after she heard his voice, giving Frank Sinatra his big break, the book reads.
She and Harry H. James divorced in 1945.
Tobin's focus remained on her boys and her family for the remainder of her life.
She focused on local jobs to prioritize raising her sons, Harry and Tim James, while maintaining her vocal acuity as they were growing up.
"She was loving, kind and gentle but strong," he said.
As her boys left home, Tobin started touring again.
"She never stopped singing," Karen said. "She was always exercising her vocals daily, so when you do that, you don't really lose your ability to sing, and she was still young when she went back on the road."
It was while performing at the Newport Jazz Festival that she met Michael "Peanuts" Hucko, whom she married in 1967.
The jazz critic from The New Yorker loved Tobin's performance, Harry said, and called her "the white Ella Fitzgerald."
"She loved Ella, and Ella—unbeknownst to her, she found out many years later—loved her," Harry said. "They were fans of each other and neither one of them knew it."
Hucko was a talented musician himself, he treated Tobin's boys as lovingly as she did and the two were married until his death in 2003.
"From the day we first saw them together, they were absolutely in joyful love with each other," Harry said. "They were so happy. It was thrilling; it was wonderful. It was one of the happiest love stories I've ever heard of."
Throughout her career, Tobin got the opportunity to know and interact with some of the biggest stars of the 1900s.
She maintained her memory and mental faculties to the end, which her family loved.
"It was an amazing feeling, really, to be able to sit down and have her tell you stories," Karen's husband Marc Casteel said. "… You get to stand there and you're a fly on the wall backstage. You hear things no one else knows."
Her voice and her talent carried her across the world to sing for famous audiences, including the late Queen Elizabeth II and now King Charles III.
She and Hucko donated much of their collection to Texas A&M University at Commerce, which also granted her an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, according to "The Aubrey History Book."
"She was also named to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame at the State Fair of Texas and Who's Who of American Women," the book says.
She was also inducted into the National Women's Museum, "and they placed her right next to Rosie the Riveter," Harry said.
"She was designated as one of the women that typified and represented the change of women in American society from the '20s, '30s, '40s and '50s," he said.
Kevin Edward Mooney penned a biography of Tobin while she was still living titled "Texas Jazz Singer."
"She was pretty much an open book," Karen said.
In recent years, Tobin went by another name—Mama Lou.
"She was priceless," Karen said. "You can't summarize her. She was just a big breath of fresh air no matter what kind of day you were having, no matter what the weather was like outside. She was always smiling. And no matter how you looked and felt, she'd always compliment you."
Tobin was equally wonderful in her personal life as she was in her professional life, Karen said.
She had a way of helping bolster her loved ones when they were struggling and celebrating them when they did well.
She was a positive influence on her family members lives, so much so that in her final years, Karen and Marc Casteel chose to have Tobin live with them.
As her body became more and more frail, she didn't like being seen in her chair.
Whether to move her into their home was not a question for Marc.
She saw him, her grandson-in-law, as her knight in shining armor, Karen said, there to keep her safe.
Near the end of her life, Tobin had some stories to share with her granddaughter that she asked Karen to keep under wraps.
Tobin died at 104 years old, peacefully in her home with her loved ones.
"We are so glad that she lived as long as she did because she was such a delightful person and she was living history," Aubrey historian Jackie Fuller said. “It’s so wonderful to know her story and be able to tell it.”