Mary Osborne was an American jazz electric guitarist.
Osborne was born in Minot, North Dakota, the tenth of eleven children. Her family was very musically inclined; her mother played guitar and her father, in addition to constructing violins, allowed his barbershop to be the meeting place for the town’s musicians. As early as 3 years of age, she showed an interest in and a knack for playing music. Osborne’s earliest instruments included piano, ukelele, violin, and banjo. At age nine, she first played the guitar. At ten, she started playing banjo in her father’s ragtime band. She also came to be featured on her own radio program, which she would continue to perform on twice weekly until she was fifteen. At twelve she started her own trio of girls to perform in Bismarck, North Dakota. The music she was playing during this time period was largely “hillbilly”, or country music, in which the guitar was simply used to accompany her own vocals.
At the age of fifteen, Osborne joined a trio led by pianist Winifred McDonnell, for which she played guitar, double bass, and sang vocals. It was during her time in this group that Osborne, seventeen years old at the time, first heard Charlie Christian play electric guitar. She heard Charlie Christian play in Al Trent's band at a stop in Bismarck, North Dakota. She was enthralled by his sound, at first mistaking the electric guitar for a saxophone. She said of it, “What impressed everyone most of all was his sense of time. He had a relaxed, even beat that would sound modern even today.” Osborne immediately bought her own electric guitar and had her friend build her an amplifier. She even sat in with Christian himself and played music with him, learning from him his style on the electric guitar. Later, McDonnell’s trio got absorbed into Buddy Rogers’ band, after Rogers heard them play in St. Louis. But within a year of the band moving to New York in 1940, the trio broke up and left Rogers’s band, having all found the men they would marry. Osborne married trumpeter Ralph Scaffidi, who encouraged her musical career.
The 1940s were some of the busiest times in Mary Osborne’s musical career. She started out sitting in on jam sessions on 52nd Street, where she played with some of the biggest names in jazz and quickly made a name for herself. In 1941 she went on the road with renowned jazz violinist Joe Venuti. In 1942 she was working freelance in Chicago when she made a recording with Stuff Smith. In 1945 Osborne headlined a jazz performance alongside Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, and Thelonious Monk in Philadelphia, to reviews and audiences that praised her specifically. Osborne, Tatum, and Hawkins went on to record in concert in New Orleans. In 1945 Osborne moved back to New York. There she recorded with Mary Lou Williams in 1945, Coleman Hawkins, Mercer Ellington, and Beryl Booker in 1946, and led her own swing trio. Her trio lasted from 1945 to 1948, and played in clubs on 52nd street, had a year-long engagement at Kelly’s Stables, and made several recordings. Throughout the 1950s she played with Elliot Lawrence’s Quartet on a CBS radio program. The last few years of the decade she spent recording, both with Tyree Glenn and as a leader. Shortly after, Osborne felt that she had been doing the same thing musically for too long, and wanted a change. In 1962 she started learning spanish classical guitar under Alberto Valdez-Blaine. She took techniques from the classical style, such as pick-less playing, into her jazz playing.