On Aug 9, Ventura County lost a musical gem — 93-year-old jazz singer Martha Buckley. Having spent her formative years listening to her mother, Elsie sing to Al Capone in the speakeasies of Chicago, the lifelong songstress had music pulsing through her veins. A mother-daughter act emerged when the two made their way to California. Years later, Buckley continued to perform with her own daughter, Colene Riffo, under the banner of Martha B. & Daughter C. & Friends.
Once in Hollywood, Buckley set music aside to become a cartoonist. MGM gave Buckley her first animation gig on Tom and Jerry, which she parlayed into a 50-year career in the industry working on Beany and Cecil, The Archies, Fat Albert, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo and Yogi Bear. As one of the industry’s female pioneers, Martha is included in the “Women in Animation” collection at UCLA’s Center for Oral History Research.
Above all, Buckley was known for entertaining. Together with her husband of 50 years, Roy, she spent the 1950s and 1960s hosting block parties at their home in North Hollywood. She also stepped out on her own to sing with choral groups, including Sweet Adelines and Nuns for Fun. The couple eventually moved to Ventura County for the ocean breezes and easy living. After Roy passed away in 1996, Buckley turned her attention to her other love — the Great American Songbook — recording her first album, Speak Easy, at the tender age of 82. She followed that up two years later with Martha B. ’n’ Friends, Live and Lovin’ it at the Pierpont. Martha would regularly sing at karaoke bars, outdoor malls and the annual Pearl Harbor Day event at the Ventura County Government Center.
This weekend, Riffo is hosting the last Ventura performance in the Martha B. Tribute Toast Series featuring a quartet playing some of Martha’s favorite tunes. Colene & Company is set to include Riffo (vocals), Dave Patt (guitar), Granville Young (bass), Donzell Davis (drums) and Ira Nepus (trombone). Guest musicians and vocalists are welcome to sit in.
The Martha B. Tribute Toast, Sunday, Oct. 6, 4-7 p.m. at Peirano’s, 204 E. Main St., Ventura, 648-4853.