Kitty Kallen began her career as a big band singer, and her hits were anything but Jewish. The first, in 1944, was the #1 novelty "Besame Mucho." Which, if you're Jewish, could translate as "Joe Besser is Too Much." But it actually means "Kiss Me A Lot." Fronting the Harry James orchestra, Kitty hit the Top Five with "I'm Beginning to See the Light," "I'll Buy that Dream" and "It's Been a Long, Long Time." And as long as she had a generic name (like another Jewess, Dinah Shore) nobody was insisting she stick to "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" (which was a hit for the goyish Andrews Sisters. Go figure).
Kitty's most memorable #1 was "Little Things Mean A Lot" in 1954. The following year her father died, and coincidentally, she suffered "paralysis of the vocal cords," which kept her silent for several years. She went to several therapists to see if the condition was psychological, as well as checking in with doctors and voice experts. Eventually her voice returned, and with Big Band no longer popular, she turned to country-pop. Her cover of Hank Williams' "Hey Good Lookin'" arrived in 1961, as did an album track of Buddy Holly's "Raining in My Heart."
Her last Top 20 hit was "My Coloring Book" in 1962. Just where a girl from Philadelphia got the voice of a Tennessee gal like Kitty Wells, I have no idea, but Kitty Kallen had it. Of the crossover artists, Kitty's sound might remind you a bit of Gogi Grant, who sang "The Wayward Wind." Gogi was also born in Philadelphia, her real name Myrtle Audrey Arinsberg.
Not long after "My Coloring Book," yet another health ailment, this time involving her lungs, sent Kitty Kallen into retirement, and the life of a housewife. It also set the stage for Kitty Kallen imitators to try and fool nightclub owners into hiring them. A headline in April of 1978 was: "KITTY KALLEN DEAD? NO, SINGER REPORTS." Kitty was alive and well in Englewood, New Jersey. Her husband had gotten the shocking call asking about his wife's death. Huh? She'd just stepped out to do some shopping! One of her imitators, Genevieve Agostinello had passed on in Los Angeles, and since she was prone to cashing check as "Kitty Kallen" when she worked, she had some ID and papers that fooled the hospital where she died.
The last time most of us heard of Kitty Kallen was in February of 2008, when she joined Patti Page, Frankie Laine, Tony Martin and others in filing against Universal Music Group. It was, of course, a losing battle.
As the New York Times reported: "“The estates of some of American music's biggest names, including Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Sarah Vaughan, have sued Universal Music Group for more than $6 million, claiming the company cheated them out of royalties, The lawsuit, which was also filed on behalf of some living artists, asserts that the company withheld record royalties, engaged in self-serving schemes with record clubs and suppressed payments from Apple’s iTunes and other digital distributors. The court papers accuse Universal of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and unjust enrichment. The 14 plaintiffs are Patti Page, Tony Martin, Dick Hyman, Richard Hayman, Kitty Kallen and the estates of Basie, Goodman, Vaughan, Woody Herman, Les Brown, the Mills Brothers, Jerry Murad, Frankie Laine and the gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, says Universal has been using questionable accounting practices since at least 1998."
Obviously, the lawsuit didn't help Kallen or her fellow musicians. And by that time, the Internet was doing worse damage. Idiot "Seniormole" types and Mephisto-jerks claimed stealing music was a good idea because big record labels and the RIAA and ASCAP were already cheating the artists out of money. They could point to Kitty's lawsuit for proof.
Just why they figured it helped matters to scream "copyright is copy wrong" and help Kim Dotcom of Megaupload become a billionaire by selling premium accounts and cheating artists, I have no idea. Why they also thought Spotify was the "paradigm for the future" is also bizarre, but it's not uncommon for people NOT in the business to claim they know how to run the business. And not listen to the phrase "mind your own business."
Below, a little tribute to one of the greats of a bygone era. She was a talented lady, and at a time of great unrest due to religious fanaticism, her work reminds us that assimilation is possible and something to be proud of. Kitty Kallen sounds like what she was: an American artist. Imagine no religion? It's easy if you listen….
KITTY KALLEN The Jewish lady goes all country-Buddy Holly. Shel Silverstein was probably impressed. RAINING IN MY HEART
KITTY KALLEN Her best known hit: - LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT