Monday, 14 November 2016

Godspeed Kay Starr

Legendary singer Kay Starr died on November 3 2016 at the age of 94.

Kay Starr was born Katherine Starks on a reservation near Dougherty, Oklahoma on July 21 1922. Her father, Harry, was Iroquois. Her mother, Annie, was of Irish and Native American ancestry. She was still only three years old when the family moved to Dallas, Texas. Miss Starr began singing while very young. When she was seven years old her Aunt Nora entered her in a talent competition held by radio station  WRR and she won.  Afterwards she had her own fifteen minute show on the station, singing both pop and hillbilly tunes. The family eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee. There she sang on radio station WMPS, continuing to perform both pop and hillbilly songs. It was while she was there that she and her parents decided to change her stage name to "Kay Starr", due to misspellings in her fan mail.

Kay Starr was only fifteen when she was discovered by jazz violinist Joe Venuti. Mr. Venuti hired to sing with his orchestra for his dates at the Claridge Hotel in Memphis. He was so impressed with her that he hired her to tour with his orchestra during the summer. Miss Starr toured with Joe Venuti and his orchestra for three summers in all. Performing with Joe Venuti's band led to Kay Starr performing with Bob Crosby and His Bobcats on the radio show Camel Caravan briefly in 1939, and then for a brief time with Glenn Miller and his band when their regular vocalist Marion Hutton was ill.

After graduating from high school she did further tours with Joe Venuti. She sang with  Wingy Manone's band for a time. From 1943 to 1945 she sang with Charlie Barnet's band. She was forced to take a year off from performing when she contracted pneumonia and then developed nodes on her vocal cords. She returned to performing in 1946 as a soloist. The following year she was signed by Capitol Records. She had her first hit was "You Were Only Foolin' (While I Was Falling In Love) ", which went to no. 16 on the Billboard singles chart. She followed it with "So Tired", which went to no. 7 on the singles chart and "How It Lies, How It Lies, How It Lies", which peaked at no. 28.

It would be 1950 that would see Kay Starr become a major pop star. That year she had her biggest hit so far with "Hoop-de-Doo", which peaked at no. 2. It was followed by "Bonaparte's Retreat", which peaked at no. 4. That same year her first album, Songs by Kay Starr, was released. The early Fifties would see Kay Starr have yet more hits, including "I'll Never Be Free", "Oh! Babe", "Come On-A My House", and "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)". Her biggest hit was in 1952--"Wheel of Fortune" hit the no. 1 spot on the Billboard singles chart and was certified gold.

In 1955 Kay Starr signed with RCA Victor. Unfortunately, the rise of rock 'n' roll would put an end to the string of hits she had since the late Forties. In the late Fifties she would only have two hits. "The Rock And Roll Waltz" hit no. 1 in 1956. "My Heart Reminds Me" peaked at no. 9 the following year. In 1959 Kay Starr returned to Capitol Records. While she recorded several more albums, she would only have a few hits in the Sixties. "My Heart Reminds Me" peaked at no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1965. Tears and Heartaches" peaked at no. 19 in 1966. "When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)" peaked at no. 24 in 1968. She not only recorded several more albums, but also continued to tour.

In the late Forties Kay Starr appeared in a few films. She appeared in Stop That Dancin' Up There (1944). Make Believe Ballroom (1949), and When You're Smiling (1950). In Down to Earth (1947) she provided Adele Jergens's singing voice. On television she appeared on such shows as Four Star Revue, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Toast of the Town, The Honeymooners, Producer's Showcase, Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Hollywood Palace, and The Red Skelton Show, as well as the TV special The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957).

Kay Starr was a phenomenal singer. In fact, she was so versatile that it is difficult to pin her down to any one genre. Over the years she sang traditional pop music, jazz, the blues, hillbilly music, and Western music. Indeed, while her two best known songs ("Wheel of Fortune" and 'Rock And Roll Waltz") are traditional pop, her best work was arguably in jazz and the blues. Some even consider her to be the greatest jazz singer of all time. Certainly her voice had great range and was incredibly expressive. Kay Starr could convey any emotion she chose through her singing. What is more, her voice was absolutely explosive. One had no trouble hearing Kay Starr. She will certainly be remembered for many years to come.

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