Kay Starr is a prominent American jazz and pop singer. She was born on July 21, 1922, in Dougherty, Oklahoma as Katherine Laverne Starks. She is the daughter of Harry, an Iroquois Indian, and Annie, a mixed American-Indian and Irish heritage. She and her family moved to Dallas, Texas after her father had a job in an Automatical Sprinkler Company. Her aunt Nora got impressed with her singing skills and brought her to WRR, a radio station in Dallas. Initially, she joined a talent competition and took the third spot for one week. Later, she was placed in the first spot for few consecutive weeks.
Eventually, Kay had her very own 15-minute show and made $3 per night at the age of 10. They shifted to Memphis, Tennessee after her father changed his job. Kay continued to perform on the radio and sang pop and country music. During that time, she is performing in WMPS, a radio station in Memphis. Her parents changed her name to Kay Starr later on, after receiving a fan mail with her misspelt name. At the age of 15, Kay was selected to sing with Giuseppe "Joe" Venuti’s orchestra. The late musician will perform at the Peabody Hotel and was asked to feature a girl singer. Venuti’s manager, recommends Kay to his boss after hearing her on the radio. Since then, she spent most of her time with Venuti until the year 1942, when his band was dissolved.
Prior to this, Kay also had a short stint with Glenn Miller and Bob Crosby in 1939. Miller and Crosby hired her after Marion Hutton, who was their regular singer, got sick. Kay’s first recordings entitled Baby Me and Love with a Capital You didn’t find much success. This is because it doesn’t suit her vocal range since the band has played in a key that is apt for Marrion Hutton. Kay moved to Los Angeles after completing high school. She signed with the band of American jazz trumpeter and singer, Wingy Manone. She also performed with Charlie Barnet from the year 1943 to 1945. Kay later contracted pneumonia, and due to overwork and fatigue, she has nodes on her vocal cords. She became a soloist in the year 1946 and later signed a contract with the record label, Capitol Records.
Several female singers signed up with the label, and Kay had difficulties in finding her own niche. During the 50’s, she went back to Dougherty and heard Pee Wee King’s Bonaparte’s Retreat recorded by a fiddler. Kay called Roy Acuff to inform him that she wants to record the song, but it took a while to clear her niche and proved that she is a singer and not a fiddler. Acuff later provided the lyrics and Bonaparte’s Retreat became her breakthrough song. It was also during the mid 50’s when she signed a contract with RCA Victor Records. She recorded The Rock and Roll Waltz that took the number one spot for six weeks on the Billboard singles chart in the year 1956.
Since she didn’t find much success with RCA Victor, Kay returned to Capitol in 1959. Many of Kay’s songs have jazz influences. Her biggest hits include Wheel of Fortune (took the number spot for 10-weeks), The Man Upstairs, and Side by Side. Her version of the Christmas song, (Everybody’s Waiting for) The Man with the Bag is also a hit and became popular over the years. Kay later recorded several albums like Movin, Losers, Weepers…, I Cry By Night and Just Plain Country. In 1966, she left Capitol Records for the second time and started touring in the US and the UK for concert venues. She recorded country and jazz albums like Back to the Roots and Count Basie, How About This. She also performed in Tony Bennett’s album entitled Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues. Kay got married for six times and had one daughter. As of 2016, she continues to perform at the age of 94.