||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2010)|
Starr in 1999
|Birth name||Katherine Laverne Starks|
July 21, 1922 |
|Genres||Traditional pop, jazz|
|Labels||Capitol, RCA Victor|
Kay Starr (born July 21, 1922) is an American pop and jazz singer who enjoyed considerable success in the 1940s and 1950s. She is best remembered for introducing two songs that became #1 hits in the 1950s, "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Rock And Roll Waltz".
Starr was successful in every field of music she tried: jazz, pop and country. But her roots were in jazz; and Billie Holiday, considered by many the greatest jazz singer of all time, called Starr "the only white woman who could sing the blues."
Life and career
Kay Starr was born Katherine Laverne Starks on a reservation in Dougherty, Oklahoma. Her father, Harry, was a full-blooded Iroquois Indian; her mother, Annie, was of mixed Irish and American Indian heritage. When her father got a job installing water sprinkler systems for the Automatical Sprinkler Company, the family moved to Dallas, Texas. There, her mother raised chickens, whom Kay used to serenade in the coop. Kay's aunt Nora was impressed by her 7-year-old niece's singing and arranged for her to sing on a Dallas radio station, WRR. First she took a talent competition by storm, finishing 3rd one week and placing first every week thereafter. Eventually she had her own 15-minute show. She sang pop and "hillbilly" songs with a piano accompaniment. By age 10 she was making $3 a night, which was quite a salary in the Depression days.
When Starks' father changed jobs, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where she continued performing on the radio. She sang "Western swing music," still mostly a mix of country and pop. During this time at Memphis radio station WMPS, misspellings in her fan mail inspired her and her parents to change her name to "Kay Starr."
At 15, she was chosen to sing with the Joe Venuti orchestra. Venuti had a contract to play in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis which called for his band to feature a girl singer, which he did not have. Venuti's road manager heard Kay Starr on the radio and suggested her to Venuti. She was still in junior high school and her parents insisted on a midnight curfew.
Although she had brief stints in 1939 with Bob Crosby and Glenn Miller (who hired her in July of that year when his regular singer, Marion Hutton, was sick), she spent most of her next few years with Venuti, until he dissolved his band in 1942. It was, however, with Miller that she cut her first two recordings: "Baby Me" and "Love with a Capital You". They were not a great success, in part because the band played in a key more appropriate for Marion Hutton that, unfortunately, did not suit Kay's vocal range.
After finishing high school, she moved to Los Angeles and signed with Wingy Manone's band; then from 1943 to 1945 she sang with Charlie Barnet's band. She then retired for a year because she developed pneumonia and later developed nodes on her vocal cords, and lost her voice as a result of fatigue and overwork.
In 1946 she became a soloist, and in 1947 signed a solo contract with Capitol Records. Capitol had a number of other female singers signed up (such as Peggy Lee, Ella Mae Morse, Jo Stafford, and Margaret Whiting), so it was hard to find her a niche. In 1948 when the American Federation of Musicians was threatening a strike, Capitol wanted to have all its singers record a lot of songs for future release. Since she was junior to all these other artists, every song she wanted to sing got offered to all the others, leaving her a list of old songs from earlier in the century, which nobody else wanted to record.
Around 1950 Starr made a trip back home to Dougherty and heard a fiddle recording of Pee Wee King's song, "Bonaparte's Retreat". She liked it so much that she wanted to record it, and contacted Roy Acuff's publishing house in Nashville, Tennessee, and spoke to Acuff directly. He was happy to let her record it, but it took a while for her to make clear that she was a singer, not a fiddler, and therefore needed to have some lyrics written. Eventually Acuff came up with a new lyric, and "Bonaparte's Retreat" became her biggest hit up to that point, with close to a million sales.
In 1955, she signed with RCA Victor Records. However, at this time, rock-and-roll was displacing the existing forms of pop music and Kay had only two hits, the aforementioned which is sometimes considered her attempt to sing rock and roll and sometimes as a song poking fun at it, "The Rock And Roll Waltz". She stayed at RCA Victor until 1959, hitting the top ten only once more with "My Heart Reminds Me", then returned to Capitol.
Most of her songs have jazz influences, and, like those of Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray, are sung in a style that sound decidedly close to the rock and roll songs that follow. These include her smash hits "Wheel of Fortune" (her biggest hit, number one for 10 weeks), "Side by Side", The Man Upstairs, and "Rock and Roll Waltz". One of her biggest hits was her version of "(Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man with the Bag", a Christmas song that quickly became a holiday favorite.   The song has remained popular over the years and has been covered by many artists to include Vonda Shepard, who performed the song on an Ally McBeal episode of the same name.
After rock-and-roll swept older performers from the charts, Starr subsequently appeared in such television series as NBC's Club Oasis, mostly associated with the bandleader Spike Jones. However, Starr recorded several albums, including Movin’ (1959), an up-tempo jazz album. Others included Losers, Weepers… (1960) and I Cry By Night (1962) in the jazz/blues genre, as well as a country album entitled Just Plain Country (1962).
After departing from Capitol Records for a second time in 1966, Starr continued touring concert venues in the US and the UK. She also recorded several jazz and country albums on small independent labels, including a 1968 album with Count Basie, and Back To The Roots (1975). In the late 1980s she was featured in the revue 3 Girls with Helen O'Connell and Margaret Whiting, and in 1993 she toured the United Kingdom as part of Pat Boone’s April Love Tour. Most recently her first "live" album, Live At Freddy's, was released in 1997. Kay Starr performs "Blue and Sentimental" with Tony Bennett on his 2001 album Playin' with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues.
As of 2007 she resides in Bel Air, California; married six times, she has a daughter and a grandchild.
Starr was one of the first female artists to perform country western swing music. As of 2014, she is now 92 years old and still performing.
|1948||"You Were Only Foolin' (While I Was Falling in Love)"||16|
|"How It Lies, How It Lies, How It Lies"||28|
|"I'll Never Be Free" (w/ Tennessee Ernie Ford)||3||2|
|"Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own"(w/ Tennessee Ernie Ford)||22||5|
|1951||"Ocean of Tears" (w/ Tennessee Ernie Ford)||15|
|"You're My Sugar"(w/ Tennessee Ernie Ford)||22|
|"Come On-A My House"||8|
|1952||"Wheel of Fortune"(gold record)||1|
|"I Waited a Little Too Long"||20|
|"Kay's Lament" (w/ The Lancers)||18|
|"Fool, Fool, Fool" (w/ The Lancers)||13|
|"Comes A-Long A-Love"||9||1|
|1953||"Side by Side"||3||7|
|"Half A Photograph"||7|
|"When My Dreamboat Comes Home"||18|
|1954||"The Man Upstairs"||7|
|"If You Love Me (Really Love Me)"||4|
|"Am I A Toy Or A Treasure"||22||17|
|"Fortune in Dreams"||17|
|1955||"Good and Lonesome"||17|
|1956||"The Rock And Roll Waltz"(gold record)||1||1|
|"I've Changed My Mind A Thousand Times"||73|
|"Love Ain't Right"||89|
|"Things I Never Had"||89|
|"The Good Book"||89|
|"A Little Loneliness"||73|
|"My Heart Reminds Me"||9|
|"I'll Never Be Free"(re-recording-solo)||94|
|1965||"Never Dreamed I Could Love Somebody New"||23|
|1966||"Tears and Heartaches"||19|
|1968||"When the Lights Go On Again (All Over the World)"|
|1974||"Tie A Yellow Ribbon"||24|
- Clarke, Donald, Wishing on the Moon, The Life and Times of Billie Holiday (Viking, 1994), p. 429; Kunz, Mary, “A MELLOWER BUT STILL TWINKLING KAY STARR,” Buffalo News, September 26, 2000.
- "Kay Starr biography". Members.tripod.com. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
- "Show 2 - Play a Simple Melody: American pop music in the early fifties. Part 2". Digital.library.unt.edu. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
- Order Christmas Records Now The Billboard, December 9, 1950, page 17
- There’s Christmas in the Air The Billboard, November 29, 1952, page 29.
- Ally McBeal, The Man with the Bag (Season 4, Episode 8) Internet Movie Database (IMDb) 
- Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 525. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
Sylvester, B. (2003, May 16). Jazz sides: 10 questions for ... kay starr. Goldmine, 29, 26. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.arizona.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1499165?accountid=8360
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kay Starr.|
- The Kay Starr homepage
- Biography of Kay Starr (in Spanish)
- The Iceberg site
- Kay Starr discography
- Kay Starr interview on KUOW 94.9 (NPR) Seattle, 2006
- Kay Starr at the Internet Movie Database
- Kay Starr interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)