Helen Morgan (August 2, 1900 - October 9, 1941) was an American singer and actress who worked in films and on the stage. She was born on 2 August 1900 in rural Danville, Illinois. She was born 'Helen Riggins' to a farmer and schoolteacher but became 'Morgan' when her mother remarried. By 20 she had taken voice lessons and was singing in speakeasies in Chicago. Her high, thin, and somewhat wobbly voice was not fashionable during the '20s for the kind of songs that she specialized in, but nevertheless she became a wildly popular torch singer. Her heart bled about hard living and heartbreak onto her accompanist's piano. This draped-over-the-piano look became her signature look while performing at Billy Rose's Backstage Club in 1925. Morgan drank too much and was often drunk during these performances, despite the National Prohibition Enforcement Act passed in 1919. During this period several Chicago gangsters tried to help fund her various attempts to open her own nightclub. However, Prohibition agents kept too strict an eye on her and her attempts failed.
Show Boat is one of Morgan's best-known appearances. As Julie La Verne she sang Bill (lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse and Oscar Hammerstein) and Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man in two stage runs and two film productions over a span of 11 years. (In the first film version of "Show Boat", made in 1929, Morgan appeared only in the song prologue; Alma Rubens played Julie in the film proper, which was mostly silent. However, Morgan did play the role in the 1936 film version of the musical.)
Morgan was noticed by Florenz Ziegfield while dancing in the chorus of his production of Sally in 1923 and she went on to perform with the Ziegfield Follies in 1931, the Follies' last active year. During this period she studied music at the Metropolitan Opera in her free time.
In the late '30s Morgan was signed up for a show at Chicago's Loop Theater. However, her alcoholism began to affect her work and she died at 41 of cirrhosis of the liver on 8 October 1941 in Chicago, Illinois.
Morgan was played by Ann Blyth in a 1957 biographical film, titled The Helen Morgan Story or Why was I born? in the US and Both Ends Of The Candle in the UK.