Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A Star's Gone Out: OH BABE...KAY STARR


Probably the most interesting remark uttered about Kay Starr was from Billie Holiday. Billie insisted Kay Starr was "the only white woman who could sing the blues."  

But did she get the chance? No, not often. She also wasn’t a “white woman” technically. Her father was an Iroquois Native American, and her mother was part Native American as well. Katherine Laverne Starks (July 21, 1922 – November 3, 2016) had the same problem as quite a few artists, including the great Patti Page: shitty management, bad arrangers, and a fear of leaving the middle of the road.

She ended up having a solid career for several decades, but in terms of superstar fame, she got lost amid competition from Keely Smith (another part-Native American), Lena Horne, and chirpers of various varieties from Edith Piaf (she covered a Piaf song in English: "If You Love Me (Really Love Me)" to Gogi Grant and even Patsy Cline.  

When Kay passed on a few days ago, a victim of Alzheimer’s, she was mourned mostly by 60-something and 70-something and 80-something fans of big band and 50’s pop. After all, the woman’s biggest hit was “Wheel of Fortune” and she covered “Sentimental Journey" and the mild jazz tunes "Ain't Misbehavin'" and the war horse "Stormy Weather."  The news of her passing wasn’t news. Kay was just another retired pop star from a long-gone era, as far as the media was concerned.  

Like Patti Page who suffered with some strangely bad arrangements from Bob Mersey (perhaps aping Mitch Miller's style) Kay Starr was often burdened by corniness. "Oh Babe" could've been an enduring, fairly hipster bit of jazz-pop, but it's got too much of a big band arrangement and a chorus of middle-aged men. Even so, you get the hint that if not credible jazz ala Billie Holiday, her voice could've gotten her assignments well into the early 60's, via country-crossover or the Connie Francis "Stupid Cupid" style of pop. 

By the 60’s she was in her 40’s, and so she was mostly popular singing 40’s songs for people in their 60’s. You do the math. Much of her catalogue is for old people who know which instrument Tommy Dorsey played and which instrument Jimmy Dorsey played. They're the kind that still wonder if Glenn Miller's death was an accident (while most have no idea how the guy died). But if you cherry-pick through the CDs, there are still tracks that might entertain you, oh kay?


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