Born in Gisborne on 9 December 1926, McMinn grew up in Taumarunui, and it was almost inevitable that she would become an entertainer. Her parents played at dances around the King Country, her father on piano and her mother on piano and violin. Her much older brothers played in dance bands, and she first performed on stage at the age of six, as a dancer.
She would go on to win many dance competitions, in tap and Irish dancing and, aged nine, tour New Zealand as part of the variety show White Horse Inn. At 10 she made her singing debut on 1ZB’s children’s radio show Neddo’s Jolly Pirates, performing ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’.
Her 1942 success in the Dixieland’s talent quest came at the behest of her grandmother, who made her enter. Although she was the youngest entrant she won: the prize was to perform twice weekly at 10/6 per night. She became a regular at the lavish cabaret, singing with Johnny Madden’s Swing Kings dance band, and after the Dixieland closed down they moved a block north on Queen Street for a residency at the Trocadero club, opposite the Town Hall.
McMinn would sing several items during the evening and in the breaks knit and embroider in the dressing room. Her mum would keep her company and walk her home. The Trocadero gigs included a floorshow in which McMinn sang and danced accompanied by the piano-accordionist Toni Savage.
During the war McMinn was manpowered to work in a local sack factory.
During the war McMinn was manpowered to work in a local sack factory. At 3.30pm she would cross the road from her home at 18 Wellington St, hold a dancing class at the International Order Of Oddfellows Hall, then catch a tram to the Orange Ballroom in Newton and sing. When the Orange Ballroom closed she continued with Ted Croad's Big Band at the Trades Hall in Hobson Street.
After the war, McMinn sang with Ted Croad’s dance band six nights a week at the Orange Ballroom, marrying his son, the drummer Eddie Croad. In the early 1950s, she began recording for Tanza. Her debut was ‘Choo’in Gum’, with John MacKenzie and the Astor Dixie Boys (George Campbell, Crombie Murdoch and Eddie Croad). Eventually she was featured on more than 25 sides for Tanza, including several of the label’s biggest hits. Among her successes were ‘Mister Tap Toe’ and ‘Dancing In My Socks’. On ‘Bimbo’ (1954) she duetted with herself, thanks to the experimental over-dubbing of Tanza’s Auckland engineer, Noel Peach. She recorded many novelties (‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’) and also – for Zodiac – guested on duets with country singer Johnny Granger (‘Let’s Give a Little’, ‘Let Mother Nature Have Her Way’).
McMinn’s voice and personality were perfect for early 1950s pop: she was always in tune and sang with a sprightly delivery and a smile. All her recordings are sprightly, even ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ (1954).
Her biggest hit was ‘Opo the Crazy Dolphin’, written by jazz pianist Crombie Murdoch in 1956. A jaunty tribute to the friendly dolphin that visited Opononi harbour during the previous summer, it was released just a few days before the Opo was found dead, becoming an unintentional homage. It sold 10,000 copies in its first week.
Even more than ‘Opo’, McMinn is best known for ‘Broke Me Dentures’
Even more than ‘Opo’, the piece of music for which McMinn is best known is ‘Broke Me Dentures’, a jingle for the Geddes Dental Renovation Clinic on Queen Street, Auckland (just up from the old Trocadero). With Nancy Harrie on piano, and Lee Humphries singing the male part, McMinn recorded the jingle in 1949 while on the way to the annual Musicians’ Ball. The jingle – just an hour’s work – was still playing on a daily basis 40 years later, but all the musicians received was their original fee of two guineas. McMinn estimated she recorded over 200 jingles.
After the Korean War, McMinn twice visited New Zealand troops as part of a touring concert party (the 1954 troupe also included “Maori Cowboy” Johnny Cooper). Her last recording, in 1956, anticipated the future: It was a lively version of the New Orleans R&B hit ‘I Hear You Knocking’. After retiring from singing, she continued her interest in dancing as a teacher and adjudicator, as well as breeding Cocker Spaniels. McMinn’s second husband, Niel Randrup, was a saxophonist with the post-war Kiwi Concert Party.
Later in the 1950s, McMinn was a foundation member of the Radio Roadhouse show, along with comedian Barry Linehan and actor Athol Coates (who was the announcer on the Geddes advertisement). Also, for two years on 1YA McMinn she hosted a radio programme called Patricia, featuring the Crombie Murdoch Trio. In the 1960s, she ran the floorshow at the second Peter Pan ballroom, on upper Queen Street (the venue later became Mainstreet cabaret). She performed with a group of eight dancers, and the resident group was Arthur Skelton's Band.
After her performing career, McMinn stayed involved with entertainment teaching dance classes – specialising in tap and jazz – and judging competitions. She was also a very keen dog breeder; her last poodle was named Keisha, after the young star of Whale Rider. The Variety Artists Club of New Zealand awarded her its prestigious Benny award in 1971, and a scroll of honour in 1993. She received an OBE in 1976.
Pat McMinn passed away on 21 March 2018.
Additional research by Michael Colonna