Fortune In Dreams : Kay Starr©2005JCMarion


Kay Starr was born in 1922 in Dougherty, Oklahoma as Katherine LaVerne Starks. Her father was a full blooded Native American and many biographies state that she was born on a Federal Reservation. At a young age the family moved to Dallas, Texas. Some members of her family thought that she had a world of talent for singing and had her enter a local amateur talent competition in the local Dallas area. She was so good that after winning the contest for a number of weeks she had her own local radio program. Soon after the family moved again, this time to Memphis, Tennessee.

Katherine Starks soon had another radio program and also was in the regular cast on WREC's Saturday Night Jamboree one of the Mid-South's top rated programs during the depression years. In 1937 when she had changed her name shortened to Kay Starr, she got a break when band leader Joe Venuti was appearing at the Peabody Hotel (famous for its daily "duck walk"). He signed her as the female vocalist with the band, school permitting (she was after all, fifteen years old). After two years of part time vocalizing with Venuti, she went to New York and appeared briefly with Bob Crosby and also had a brief stint with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. She appeared with Miller on July 24, 1939 at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. It was with Miller during that week that Starr made her very first recording - "Baby Me" (which she sang on the radio broadcast on July 24th) and "Love With A Capitol YOU" (from the picture "$1000 A Touchdown") on Bluebird # 10383.

Starr returned to Memphis, and after high school graduation she moved to California and rejoined Joe Venuti. That association lasted until World War II caused the band to break up. By 1943 she was with the band of Charlie Barnet and recorded some sides for Decca especially "Sharecroppin' Blues" on Decca # 24264. A bout of pneumonia curtailed her career for a number of months in 1945 into 1946. She recorded a few sides for independent labels until in 1947 Starr was signed to Capitol Records, a rapidly developing major record company. Now Starr moved from mainly jazz singing to a more pop oriented sound that soon began to pay dividends in making Kay Starr one of music's top recording stars.

In late 1948 Starr made the best sellers hit parade for the first time. The song was "You Were Only Fooling" on Capitol # 15226. The follow up side for Capitol "So Tired" ( a cover of the hit for Russ Morgan) was a top ten seller and remained on the best sellers for four month. The record on # 15314 got as high as the number seven seller in the country. In the spring of 1949 "How It Lies, How It Lies" on # 15419 briefly made the hit parade. Starr returned to the best sellers one year later in May of 1950 with two huge hits in a row. "Hoop-De-Doo" was a cover of the original by Perry Como for RCA, but enough record buyers and radio listeners liked Starr's version ( on Capitol # 980-a new numbering system) to get it to number two in the country and was a four month chart topper. She followed that up with "Bonaparte's Retreat" with the band of Lou Busch ( on # 936) to a number four best nationally. The record had staying power as it remained on the top sellers list for an incredible seven months and made Kay Starr one of post war pop music's big names.

A brief hit side of the tune "M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I" was followed as Capitol put Starr in the recording studio with country star Tennessee Ernie Ford. In the late summer of 1950 the record on Capitol # 1124 provided a two sided hit. "Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own" was a top twenty seller but the flip side "I'll Never Be Free" was a huge hit topping out at number three and staying on the list for five months. Kay had one last chart hit during the year with her cover of "Oh Babe" ( # 1278) originated by Louis Prima. 1950 was quite a year for Starr.

She began 1951 with another pairing with Ernie Ford. The songs were "Oceans Of Tears" and "You're My Sugar" released on Capitol # 1567. Both songs made the top sellers list with "Oceans" getting into the top fifteen and a six week stay on the charts. In mid simmer Starr recorded a cover of Rosemary Clooney's hit "Come On-A My House" with satisfying results. Released on capitol # 1710 was a top ten seller and was close to three months on the record charts. Her last charter of the year was recorded with the band of Dave Cavanaugh on # 1796. The song called "Angry" was a top twenty five seller for a brief week. But the biggest hit of all was about to hit the country.

Eddie Wilcox and his band with vocal by Sunny Gale had recorded "Wheel Of Fortune" for Derby and it began to sell big. The the R & B vocal group The Cardinals recorded the tune for Atlantic and it started to sell big. Capitol hurriedly set up the studio in January of 1952 for Kay Starr to record her version of the song, and it was quickly released on # 1964. Starr's version completely eclipsed all other versions of the tune and dominated the pop market like few records had in the post war years. "Wheel" sold over one million, held the number one position in the country for an unbelievable two and a half months, and remained on the best seller charts for more than six months. This incredible performance made Starr among the biggest entertainers in the world. Starr had six other chart tunes during the year, but her version of "Wheel" overshadowed them all. "I Waited A Little Too Long" on # 2062 was a top twenty seller, "Kay's Lament" and "Fool, Fool, Fool" (originally by the great R & B vocal group The Clovers for Atlantic) on # 2151 was a two sided hit with both getting into the top twenty, and "Three Letters" and "Comes Along A-Love" on # 2213 also charted both sides. "Comes Along A-Love" was a strong seller topping the charts at number nine in the country. It was quite a year !

In 1953 Kay Starr started out the year without seemingly missing a beat. Her first record of the year was "Side By Side" on Capitol # 2334. It was another huge hit for Starr reaching the number three position in the national best sellers and was a three month plus title on the best sellers listing. In June a solid two sided hit record followed featuring the songs "Half A Photograph" and "Allez-Vous-En" a tune from the Broadway hit show "Can Can" released on # 2464. Both sides got into the top ten in national sales and remained a best seller for four months. Later in the year Starr recorded the pop music oldie "When My Dreamboat Comes Home" and "Swamp Fire" with Dave Cavanaugh's Orchestra on # 2595. Both sides were top thirty sellers with "Dreamboat" topping out at number eighteen. She closed out the year with "Changing Partners" a hit on Decca for Bing Crosby. Starr's version of the song did well however, becoming a solid top ten seller well into 1954.

In the spring of 1954 Kay Starr once again recorded a two sided smash for Capitol Records. "If You Love Me, (Really Love Me)" and "The Man Upstairs" with the orchestra of Harold Mooney, on # 2769 were both big sellers well into the top ten list and remaining a top seller for more than four months. In September Starr did it again, registering two top sellers on Capitol # 2887 - "Am I A Toy Or A Treasure" and "Fortune In Dreams" were both top twenty sellers and had a good run on the charts. In less than six years Kay Starr had twenty nine best selling records for Capitol making her one of the most successful recording artists of the post war decade. And it was not over yet.

In 1955 Kay Starr moved to RCA Victor Records after all those years at Capitol. She had one brief hit for them in 1955 with "Good And Lonesome" on RCA # 6146. Starr appeared in two television specials "Promenade" in 1955, and "The Lord Don't Play Favorites" in 1956. The rock 'n roll age was upon the country in 1956 and pop music performers were dropping by the wayside as teenagers took over the record industry's reliance on the 78 and now 45 rpm single. In early 1956 Starr did the impossible by recording a song that appealed to both the teens and their parents. The song was "Rock And Roll Waltz" on # 6359. The record was a number one hit and a million seller, her second gold record. It spent five months on the hit parade of top selling records and further solidified her reputation as a top recording artist. She had a brief hit with "Second Fiddle" on # 6541, and then closed out the year with her last charted single "My Heart Reminds Me" on # 6981. It was another solid hit and top ten seller with a chart life of almost three months.

By 1957 it was apparent that kay Starr's future in music lay in a more sophisticated style geared toward adults and presented in the new LP format. Leave rock 'n roll to the kids she thought and RCA agreed . In 1957 Starr appeared in a movie version of "The Pied Piper Of Hamelin" with Van Johnson, Jim Backus, and Claude Rains. In 1959 however she left RCA and returned to Capitol and during the nineteen sixties concentrated mostly on her jazz stylings that she had first exhibited in the mid forties. In the early sixties she recorded the LP albums "Movin" with Van Alexander on LP # 1254, "I Cry By Night" on Capitol # 1681, and a country music album called "Just Plain Country" on # 1795. During the mid sixties Starr performed on television on "Hollywood palace" a number of times, and also made multiple guest shots on The Dean Martin Show. In 1968 she recorded an album with the Count Basie band for ABC Paramount called "How About This" on # 5001. Another Starr-Basie collaboration was "Encounter" on MCA # 1550. In the mid seventies Starr recorded a LP called "Back To The Roots" for GNP Crescendo with an all star small jazz combo with Red Norvo, Blue Mitchell, Georgie Auld, and Jimmy Rowles. From that point on Starr cut back on in person appearances and recording. But the memories remain as Starr has left a legacy of great music to be enjoyed for many many years to come.

Here are some available CDs of music from Kay Starr throughout her career beginning in the mid forties.

"A Rising Starr" A double CD beginning with her two songs recorded with Glenn Miller, then Charlie Barnet, Joe Venuti, and Ben Pollack. Everything up to her signing with Capitol, so there is duplication of some the Lamplighter sides

"Kay Starr - The Complete Lamplighter Recordings : 1945-1946" Featuring twenty eight tracks that Starr made for the small independent label.

"The Uncollected Kay Starr : In The 1940s" - A fourteen track CD of radio airchecks from the nineteen forties.

"I've Got To Sing : 1944-1948" for Hep, there may be some duplication of her mid forties tracks.

"Kay Starr - The Best Of The Standard Transcriptions". A double CD set of fifty tunes from 1950 featuring Joe Venuti, Les Paul, Billy Butterfield, and many others.

Here are the two CD collections that are the foundation of her popular music successes - "The Definitive Kay Starr On Capitol" for Collector's Choice in 2002 lives up to its title. All the hits on fifty tracks. "The Essential RCA Singles Collection for Taragon features 18 tracks of her years at RCA in the late fifties.

"Movin" and "Movin On Broadway" a CD double reissue of two great albums on her return to Capitol in late 1959 issued by Exemplar in 2002.

"I Cry By Night" and "Losers Weepers" another double CD reissue of original LPs recorded for Capitol issued on EMI from 1999.

Two RCA LPs are reissued by Collectables from 2002 - "Rockin With Kay" and "I Hear The Word".

"Back To The Roots" the great 1975 LP issued in remastered CD form by GNP Crescendo from 1996.

"Blue Starr" released by BMG in 1999.

And finally "Live At Freddy's" a live recording from the mid eighties remastered and released on a 23 track CD by Baldwin Street Music.

There are many other Kay Starr CDs out there (Amazon lists close to sixty !) but of course many are rehashes and repackaged previous recordings, so pay attention to the song listing. The CDs listed have tried to keep duplication to a minimum. Most of all just sit back and truly enjoy some marvelous music by a wonderful performer, one to treasure for all time.

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