One night in late 1936 or early 1937, the Literary Society audience included members of the all-female orchestra led by Ina Ray Hutton, who encouraged her to go to New York. Sullivan, still singing as Marietta Williams, arrived there in June of 1937. Hutton's pianist, Gladys Mosier, introduced her to Claude Thornhill, a top pianist leading his own big band (in my view one of the greatest of all the big bands, before and after WWII).
She did some singing as Marietta Williams at New York's famous Onyx Club on 52nd Street in Manhattan, then known as "Swing Street." There, she sang the eighteenth century Scottish folk song "Loch Lomond," one of a number of traditional ballads given swing arrangements by Thornhill. How her stage name changed to Sullivan is a tale too complicated to get into here.
1937 Sullivan's "Loch Lomond," duly swung. Listen for yourself.
While she recorded a number of other swinging traditional tunes, here's one with the Thornhill band from the same era: the hard-swinging, non-traditional "Stop! You're Breaking My Heart."
Sullivan also met bass player John Kirby. The two married in 1939. She performed with Kirby's innovative sextet, which had the spirit and sound of a much bigger unit. They divorced in 1942.
Sullivan continued recording, and made some outstanding recordings just after World War II, like this one.
1951: A year after she married pianist Cliff Jackson, they did this hot performance of "Some of These Days" for a series of musical films made to run on early TV
1958: "Ace in the Hole." Sullivan was winding down her career by the time she did this appearance on the TV show Art Ford's Jazz Party with Sir Roland Hanna at the piano, pioneer female jazz guitarist Mary Osborne and trombonist Tyree Glenn.
Around this time Sullivan taught herself to play valve trombone and was photographed with one in a 1958 edition of Jet Magazine. With two children, a daughter Paula in school, she retired from music and worked in a school as a teacher's aide under her real name. She did not become a registered nurse as Wikipedia indicates. It wa her daughter went into nursing. In 1965, Sullivan got encouragement to return to performing, but wasn't until 1966 that she resumed any public musical activity. which gradually ramped up through the last years of that decade. By 1969, she was working extensively with cornetist Bobby Hackett.
1969: "Harlem Butterfly" from an album featuring accompaniment by pianist Bernie Leighton. and saxophonist Bob Wilber.
Sullivan did her last gig in New York in March 1987. She died a month later of cancer.
You see a diminutive woman in these later videos, but one whose power to swing had only grown with time, more than bearing out Friedwald's comments.
Among the jazz greats Pittsburgh brought to the world were some phenomenally gifted women From Mary Lou Williams, Lena Horne and Dakota Staton to the late Sandy Staley, to today's Sheryl Bailey, Michele Bensen and Maureen Budway. Within that elite group, Maxine Sullivan was a giant.
Reference: Maxine Sullivan Interview, 52nd St. The Street of Jazz by Arnold Shaw (Da Capo, 1971) pp.96-104