Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week, I’m celebrating one of my favorite jazz voices of the 20th century, Kay Starr. She would have turned 100 years old this week. Starr got her start in the 1940s, combining a country twang, a blues style, and a swing sensibility into a voice that was fresh, fun and inviting. This hour, I’ll feature a number of Kay Starr’s recordings from the 40s, 50s and 60s, focusing on one aspect of her style: her infectious sense of swing.
We’re Swingin’ With Kay Starr, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - KAY STARR, “HELLO EVERYBODY” (INTRODUCTION)”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “IT’S A GOOD DAY”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN”
“What Goes Up Must Come Down” by Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler, and “It’s A Good Day” by Peggy Lee and Dave Barbour. Both recorded around 1949 by Kay Starr.
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we’re keeping things light and fun with the music of the marvelous Kay Starr…
MUSIC CLIP - KAY STARR, “I’VE GOT TO SING”
Kay Starr is a hard singer to define. She was a pop star, and some of her biggest hits were basically country songs, reflecting her Oklahoma and Texas roots. But at the same time, Billie Holiday once said that Kay Starr was, quote, “the only white woman who could sing the blues.”
The thing that ties most of Starr’s singing together is her infectious sense of swing. Whether she was singing jazz, pop, country or blues, Starr had rhythm coursing through her veins. So this week, I’ll be highlighting some of her swinging numbers.
Starr got her start right in the middle of the swing era. When she was still a teenager, she was singing in the big bands of Joe Venuti, Bob Crosby, Glenn Miller and Wingy Manone. Her first significant partnership however was with saxophonist Charlie Barnet.
She joined his group as their girl singer in 1944, when she was 21 years old, and stuck with him for a year. In that time, she recorded a number of sides, and I’ll play one of them now.
This is Kay Starr with Charlie Barnet and “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - CHARLIE BARNET & HIS ORCHESTRA, FEAT. KAY STARR, “YOU ALWAYS HURT THE ONE YOU LOVE”
“You Always Hurt The One You Love” by Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra in 1944, featuring a young Kay Starr.
Starr left Barnet’s group after about a year, when her voice gave out from singing too much. After she recovered, she moved around a bit for the next two years, making small appearances on a variety of labels. One of those labels was the Lamplighter Label, based in California, where she recorded a number of jazz standards with clarinetist Barney Bigard.
I’ll play two of those recordings now, followed by a track from around this same time that features her alongside Nat King Cole on piano.
First, here’s Kay Starr and clarinetist Barney Bigard in 1946 with W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “ST LOUIS BLUES”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “SUNDAY”
MUSIC - CAPITOL INTERNATIONAL JAZZMEN, FEAT. KAY STARR, “IF I COULD BE WITH YOU”
Kay Starr in 1945 with “If I Could Be With You.” That was recorded as part of an all-star jazz session for Capitol Records called the Capitol International Jazzmen, featuring Nat King Cole on piano, Benny Carter on alto saxophone, Bill Coleman on trumpet, Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax, and Max Roach on drums. Not long after this, Kay Starr would be signed as a solo artist on Capitol.
Before that, we heard her in 1946 performing “Sunday” and “St Louis Blues,” recordings made with clarinetist Barney Bigard on the Lamplighter Record label.
Right after recording with the Capitol International Jazzmen and Barney Bigard, Kay Starr made a few recordings with trumpeter Billy Butterfield and his Quintet. This was late in 1947 and early in 1948.
She was still only about 25 years old, but her bluesy jazz style was even more mature. I’ll play two of those recordings now, beginning with a tune made famous by Billie Holiday.
This is Kay Starr with a marvelously swingin’ version of “Them There Eyes,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “THEM THERE EYES”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “IT’S A GREAT FEELING”
Kay Starr with Billy Butterfield’s Quintet around 1948. We just heard the Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne tune “It’s A Great Feeling,” before that, the Maceo Pinkard tune “Them There Eyes.”
We’re exploring the swingin’ Kay Starr this hour on the show. Starr also recorded a large number of radio transcriptions during the late 1940s as well, songs made not for distribution but rather only for radio airplay. She mostly did these for the Standard Transcription company out of Hollywood, recording with different bands, including Joe Venuti’s and Buzz Adlam’s orchestra.
I’ll play a few of her Standard Transcription recordings with Adlam which have been reissued on CD. First, here’s a song from the 1920s, this is “You’ve Got To See Mama Ev’ry Night (Or You Can’t See Mama At All),” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “YOU’VE GOT TO SEE MAMA EVERY NIGHT”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “TELL ME HOW LONG THE TRAIN’S BEEN GONE”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE”
Three radio transcriptions from Kay Starr, recorded around 1948. In order, we heard “You’ve Got To See Mama Every Night,” Tell Me How Long The Train’s Been Gone,” and “The Best Things In Life Are Free.”
MUSIC CLIP - CHARLIE BARNET & HIS ORCHESTRA, “SMILES”
Coming up after a short break, we’ll do more swingin’ with Kay Starr, as we celebrate her 100th birthday on July 21st, stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - KAY STARR, “S'POSIN'”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring some of the swingin’ tunes from jazz singer Kay Starr this hour. Starr would have turned 100 years old this week. In 1947, Starr was signed as a solo artist with Capitol Records. Over the next decade, she would become one of the biggest selling artists on the label, but not by singing the same jazz standards she had been performing in the 40s.
Those well-known jazz tunes usually went to Peggy Lee or Jo Stafford, more established artists on the label. So Starr found success doing rarer tunes, either brand new songs with a country sound like “Wheel Of Fortune” or “I’ll Never Be Free,” or forgotten tunes from the early 20th century, like “Side By Side,” the traditional fiddle tune “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” or this one, “I’m The Lonesomest Gal In Town.”
MUSIC CLIP - KAY STARR, “I'M THE LONESOMEST GAL IN TOWN”
While she mostly left jazz behind, her bluesy side was hard to hide. Here’s a pop single from Starr in 1952, featuring the vocal group the Lancers. This is Kay Starr with “Kay’s Lament,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “KAY’S LAMENT”
“Kay’s Lament,” a bluesy pop single for Capitol Records in 1952, by Kay Starr and the vocal group The Lancers.
Five years earlier, when Starr first joined Capitol, they did have her record a jazz session with arranger and saxophone player Dave Cavanaugh. Nothing happened with this session—most of the songs were unissued, and Capitol pushed her a new direction as a pop singer soon after. But the session does show off Starr’s incredible ability to keep up with some of jazz’s best. It wasn’t until over a decade later that Capitol started to rethink of Starr as a jazz singer—I’ll get to that later.
First, here’s Kay Starr in 1947 with two songs recorded for Capitol, beginning with “Believe It, Beloved,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “BELIEVE IT, BELOVED”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “BETWEEN A KISS AND A SIGH”
“Between a Kiss and a Sigh” and “Believe It, Beloved,” two unreleased tracks from 1947, the first year Kay Starr was signed to Capitol Records. Those were arranged by Dave Cavanaugh
Kay Starr mostly recorded pop singles for Capitol in the early 1950s. In the mid 1950s, she made a brief jump to RCA Records, recording a couple of albums and some hit novelty songs like “The Rock and Roll Waltz.” These RCA recordings are a bit harder to find these days.
But then in 1959, she returned to Capitol, where she recorded several albums in different styles. This included a collection of heartbreaking ballads on the standout record called I Cry By Night, plus a few authentic country albums. But, Capitol also had Starr return to her swing roots.
Her first swing revival record was the 1959 album Movin’, featuring arrangements by Van Alexander and produced by her old friend Dave Cavanaugh (now a big shot at Capitol). I’ll play two songs from that record, beginning with a Gus Kahn and Isham Jones tune from the 1920s.
This is Kay Starr with “Swingin On Down The Lane’,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “SWINGIN’ DOWN THE LANE”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “ON A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA”
Frank Loesser’s “On A Slow Boat to China” and Gus Kahn’s “Swingin’ On Down The Lane.” Two tracks from the 1959 Kay Starr album Movin’.
Starr followed up Movin’ the next year with the similarly titled album Movin’ On Broadway, also arranged by Van Alexander and produced by Cavanaugh. This album, as you may have guessed, featured uptempo numbers all from the Great White Way.
I’ll play two songs from that album, beginning with a song from the 1956 Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical Bells Are Ringing.
This is Kay Starr with “Just In Time,” on Afterglow
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “JUST IN TIME”
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “C’EST MAGNIFIQUE”
The Cole Porter tune “C’est Magnifique” and the Comden and Green tune “Just In Time,” both performed by Kay Starr in 1960 from her Capitol Recording Movin’ On Broadway.
That same year, Starr teamed up with Van Alexander yet again to create a jazzy album appropriately titled Jazz Singer. The album mostly consists of early jazz and blues tunes from the 1920s, featuring Starr in full blues shouter mode plus the addition of an electric organ by Alexander.
I’ll close off this episode with a track from this album. Here is Starr’s swingin’ treatment of the 1924 novelty number “Hard Hearted Hannah,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - KAY STARR, “HARD-HEARTED HANNAH”
“Hard-Hearted Hannah (The Vamp of Savannah, G-A)” an old novelty number from 1924. That was Kay Starr in 1960 from her Capitol Recording called Jazz Singer.
And thanks for swingin’ with Kay Starr with me, in honor of her 100th birthday, this week on Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - CAPITOL INTERNATIONAL JAZZMEN, “RIFFAMAROLE”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University, and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow