Kay Starr

Katherine Laverne Starks (July 21, 1922  November 3, 2016), known professionally as Kay Starr, was an American pop and jazz singer who enjoyed considerable success in the late 1940s and 1950s.

Kay Starr
Background information
Birth nameKatherine Laverne Starks
Born(1922-07-21)July 21, 1922
Dougherty, Oklahoma, U.S.
DiedNovember 3, 2016(2016-11-03) (aged 94)
Los Angeles, California
GenresTraditional pop, jazz, country
Years active1939–2016
LabelsCapitol, RCA Victor

Starr was successful in every field of music she tried (jazz, pop, and country), but her roots were in jazz. Billie Holiday called her "the only white woman who could sing the blues."[1]

Life and career

Kay Starr was born Katherine Laverne Starks on a reservation in Dougherty, Oklahoma.[2] Her father, Harry, was an Iroquois native American; her mother, Annie, was of mixed Irish and Native American heritage.[2] When her father got a job installing water sprinkler systems for the Automatic Sprinkler Company, the family moved to Dallas. Her mother raised chickens, whom Starr serenaded in the coop. Her aunt Nora was impressed by her 7-year-old niece's singing and arranged for her to sing on a Dallas radio station, WRR. Starr finishing 3rd one week in a talent contest and placed first every week thereafter. She was given a 15-minute radio show. She sang pop and country songs with a piano accompaniment. By age 10 she was making $3 a night, which was quite a salary during the Great Depression.

When Starr's father changed jobs, the family moved to Memphis, where she continued performing on the radio. She sang Western swing music, still mostly a mix of country and pop. While working for Memphis radio station WMPS, misspellings in her fan mail inspired her and her parents to change her name to "Kay Starr".

At 15, she was chosen to sing with the Joe Venuti orchestra. Venuti had a contract to play in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis which called for his band to feature a girl singer, a performer he did not have at the time. Venuti's road manager heard Starr on the radio and recommended her although she was young and her parents insisted on a midnight curfew.

In 1939, she worked with Bob Crosby and Glenn Miller, who hired her to replace the ill Marion Hutton. With Miller she recorded "Baby Me" and "Love with a Capital You". They were not a great success, in part because the band played in a key that, while appropriate for Hutton, did not suit Kay's vocal range.[3]

After finishing high school, she moved to Los Angeles and signed with Wingy Manone's band. From 1943 to 1945 she sang with Charlie Barnet's ensemble, retiring for a year after contracting pneumonia and later developing nodes on her vocal cords as a result of fatigue and overwork.

In 1946 Starr became a soloist and a year later signed a contract with Capitol Records. The label had a number of female singers signed up, including Peggy Lee, Ella Mae Morse, Jo Stafford, and Margaret Whiting, so it was hard to find her a niche of her own. In 1948 when the American Federation of Musicians was threatening a strike, Capitol wanted to have each of its singers record a back list for future release. Being junior to all these other artists meant that every song Starr wanted to sing was taken by her rivals on the label, leaving her a list of old songs which nobody else wanted to record.

In 1950 she returned home to Dougherty and heard a fiddle recording of "Bonaparte's Retreat" by Pee Wee King. She liked it so much that she wanted to record it. She contacted Roy Acuff's publishing house in Nashville and spoke to Acuff directly. He was happy to let her record it, but it took a while for her to make clear that she was a singer, not a fiddler, and therefore needed to have some lyrics written. Acuff came up with a new lyric, and "Bonaparte's Retreat" became her biggest hit up to that point, with close to a million sales.

In 1955, she signed with RCA Victor Records. However, at this time, rock-and-roll was displacing the existing forms of pop music and Kay had only two hits, the aforementioned, which is sometimes considered her attempt to sing rock and roll, and sometimes as a song poking fun at it, "The Rock and Roll Waltz". She stayed at RCA Victor until 1959, hitting the top ten with "My Heart Reminds Me", then returned to Capitol.

Most of Starr's songs had jazz influences. Like those of Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray, they were sung in a style that anticipated rock and roll songs. These included her hits "Wheel of Fortune" (her biggest hit, No. 1 for 10 weeks), "Side by Side",[4] "The Man Upstairs", and "Rock and Roll Waltz". One of her biggest hits was her version of "(Everybody's Waitin' For) The Man with the Bag", a Christmas song that became a holiday favorite.[5][6]

After rock-and-roll swept older performers from the charts, Starr appeared in the television series Club Oasis, mostly associated with the bandleader Spike Jones. She recorded several albums, including Movin' (1959), Losers, Weepers… (1960), I Cry By Night (1962), and Just Plain Country (1962).

After leaving Capitol for a second time in 1966, Starr continued touring in the US and the UK. She recorded several jazz and country albums on small independent labels, including How About This, a 1968 album with Count Basie.

In the late 1980s she performed in the revue 3 Girls with Helen O'Connell and Margaret Whiting, and in 1993 she toured the United Kingdom as part of Pat Boone's April Love Tour. Her first live album, Live at Freddy's, was released in 1997. She sang with Tony Bennett on his album Playin' with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues (2001). Two of her songs, Powder Your Face with Sunshine and It's a Good Day, appeared in the 2007 movie Fido.

Starr died on November 3, 2016 in Los Angeles at the age of 94 from complications of Alzheimer's disease.[7]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Kay Starr among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[8]


  • Songs by Kay Starr (Capitol, 1950)
  • Capitol Presents Kay Starr (Capitol, 1953)
  • The Kay Starr Style (Capitol, 1953)
  • The Hits of Kay Starr (Capitol, 1954)
  • In a Blue Mood (Capitol, 1955)
  • The One, the Only (RCA Victor, 1956)
  • Swingin' with the Starr (Liberty, 1956)
  • Blue Starr (RCA Victor, 1957)
  • Singin' Swingin with Erroll Garner (Crown, 1957)
  • Rockin' with Kay (RCA Victor, 1958)
  • Movin'! (Capitol, 1959)
  • I Hear the Word (RCA Victor, 1959)
  • Movin' on Broadway (Capitol, 1960)
  • Losers, Weepers (Capitol, 1960)
  • Kay Starr: Jazz Singer (Capitol, 1960)
  • Starr Bright (RCA Camden, 1960)
  • Just Plain Country (Capitol, 1962)
  • I Cry by Night (Capitol, 1962)
  • Kay Starr and the Gerald Wiggins Trio (Crown, 1962)
  • Kay Starr Sings (Tops, 1956)
  • Kay Starr Sings (Coronet, 1963)
  • Kay Starr Sings Volume 2 (Coronet, 1963)
  • The Fabulous Favorites! (Capitol, 1964)
  • On Stage (Coronet, 1964)
  • Tears & Heartaches/Old Records (Capitol, 1966)
  • Portrait of a Starr (Sunset, 1966)
  • How About This with Count Basie (Paramount, 1968)
  • When the Lights Go On Again (ABC 1968)
  • Country (GNP Crescendo, 1974)
  • Back to the Roots (GNP Crescendo, 1975)
  • Kay Starr (GP, 1981)
  • The Uncollected Kay Starr in the 1940s–1947 (Hindsight, 1985)
  • The Uncollected 1949 Vol. 2 (Hindsight, 1986)
  • Live at Freddy's 1986 (Baldwin Street Music, 1987)
  • Sweetheart of Song Live (Collectors' Choice Music 2001)


Year Single (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
Chart positions Album
CB UK[9]
1948 "You Were Only Foolin' (While I Was Falling in Love) "
b/w "A Faded Summer Love" (from Songs by Kay Starr)
16 Non-album track
1949 "So Tired"
b/w "Steady Daddy" (from Songs by Kay Starr)
7 One More Time
"How It Lies, How It Lies, How It Lies"
b/w "Wabash Cannonball"
28 Non-album tracks
"I Wish I Had a Wishbone"
b/w "There Yes! Yes! In Your Eyes"
"Stormy Weather"
b/w "You're the One I Care For" (from Songs by Kay Starr)
Swingin' with the Starr
1950 "Flyin' Too High"
b/w "Dixieland Band" (from Swingin' with the Starr)
Both tracks with Crystalette All-Stars
Non-album track
"Where or When"
b/w "There's a Lull in My Life"
Both tracks with Crystalette All-Stars
Swingin' with the Starr
"Game of Broken Hearts"
b/w "Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone"
26 Non-album tracks
b/w "A Woman Likes to Be Told" (from In a Blue Mood)
2 4 The Fabulous Favorites!
"Bonaparte's Retreat"[4]
Original B-side: "Someday Sweetheart" (from The Kay Starr Style)
Later B-side: "Honeymoon" (Non-album track)
4 7 The Hits of Kay Starr
b/w "He's a Good Man to Have Around" (Non-album track)
18 All Starr Hits!
"Mama Goes Where Papa Goes"
b/w "Please Love Me" (Non-album track)
Songs by Kay Starr
"I'll Never Be Free" (with Tennessee Ernie Ford)[4]A / 3 7 Non-album tracks
"Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own" (with Tennessee Ernie Ford)B 22 31
"Oh! Babe"
b/w "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" (from In a Blue Mood)
7 8
1951 "Lovesick Blues"
b/w "Evenin' " (from In a Blue Mood)
"Ocean of Tears" (with Tennessee Ernie Ford) / 15 26
"You're My Sugar" (with Tennessee Ernie Ford) 22
"Come On-A My House"
b/w "Hold Me, Hold Me, Hold Me" (from Songs by Kay Starr)
8 1
b/w "Don't Tell Him What's Happened to Me" (from In a Blue Mood)
26 All Starr Hits!
"On a Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor"
b/w "Two Brothers" (from One More Time)
Non-album track
1952 "Wheel of Fortune" (gold record)[4]
b/w "I Wanna Love You" (Non-album track)
1 1 The Hits of Kay Starr
"I Waited a Little Too Long"
b/w "(Ho Ho Ha Ha) Me Too" (from Kay Starr: Jazz Singer)
20 22
"Kay's Lament" (with The Lancers) / 18 17
"Fool, Fool, Fool" (with The Lancers) 13 22
"Comes A-Long A-Love" / 9 20 1
"Three Letters" 22 28
1953 "Side by Side"
b/w "Noah!"
3 9 7 One More Time
"Half a Photograph" / 7 12 The Hits of Kay Starr
"Allez-Vous-En" 11 7
"When My Dreamboat Comes Home" / 18 35 All Starr Hits!
"Swamp Fire" 30 28 One More Time
"Changing Partners"
b/w "I'll Always Be in Love With You"
7 4
1954 "The Man Upstairs" / 7 8 The Hits of Kay Starr
"If You Love Me (Really Love Me)" 4 5
"Am I a Toy or a Treasure" / 22 22 17 All Starr Hits!
"Fortune in Dreams" 17 24 The Hits of Kay Starr
1955 "Turn Right" / 23 Non-album tracks
"If Anyone Finds This, I Love You" 44
"Foolishly Yours"
b/w "For Better or Worse"
"Good and Lonesome"
b/w "Where, What or When"
17 40
"Without a Song"
b/w "Home Sweet Home on the Range" (Non-album track)
Kay Starr
1956 "The Rock and Roll Waltz" (gold record) / 1 1 1 Pure Gold
"I've Changed My Mind a Thousand Times" 73 Non-album tracks
"Second Fiddle" / 40 37
"Love Ain't Right" 89
"Things I Never Had" / 89
"The Good Book" 89
1957 "Jamie Boy" / 54 36
"A Little Loneliness" 73 52
"My Heart Reminds Me"
b/w "Flim Flam Floo" (Non-album track)
9 16 Pure Gold
"Help Me"
b/w "The Last Song and Dance"
Non-album tracks
1958 "Stroll Me"
b/w "Rockin' Chair" (from Rockin' with Kay)
"Bridge of Sighs"
b/w "Voodoo Man"
"He Cha Cha'd In"
b/w "Oh, How I Miss You Tonight" (from Pure Gold)
1959 "I Couldn't Care Less"
b/w "(I Don't Care) Only Love Me" (from Pure Gold)
"Riders in the Sky"
b/w "Night Train"
125 Movin'!
1960 "You Always Hurt the One You Love"
b/w "Gonna Get A Guy"
Losers, Weepers
"Just for a Thrill"
b/w "Out in the Cold Again"
All Starr Hits!
1961 "Foolin' Around"
b/w "Kay's Lament" (from One More Time)
49 57 The Fabulous Favorites!
"I'll Never Be Free" (re-recording-solo) / 94 91 Non-album tracks
"Nobody" tag
"Well I Ask Ya"
b/w "Rough Riders"
1962 "Four Walls"
b/w "Oh Lonesome Me"
92 119 Just Plain Country
"Bossa Nova Casanova"
b/w "Swingin' at the Hungry-O"
Non-album tracks
1963 "No Regrets"
b/w "Cherche La Rose"
"Make a Circle"
b/w "To Each His Own"
1964 "It's Happening All Over Again"
b/w "Dancing on My Tears"
b/w "Together Again"
"Look on the Brighter Side"
b/w "Lorna's Here"
1965 "Happy"
b/w "I Forgot to Forget"
"Never Dreamed I Could Love Somebody New"
b/w "I Know That You Know That We Know That They Know"
23 Tears & Heartaches/Old Records
1966 "Tears and Heartaches" / 19
"Old Records" 26
1968 "When The Lights Go On Again (All Over The World)"
b/w "Only When You're Lonely"
24 120 When The Lights Go On Again
"Some Sweet Tomorrow"
b/w "My Melancholy Baby"
"Something Happened to Me"
b/w "The 12th Street Marching Band"
Non-album tracks
1970 "Knock, Knock, Who's There?"
b/w "Sweet Blindness"
1973 "Rangers Waltz"
b/w "Saturday Night"
1975 "What Can I Say After I Say I'm Sorry"
b/w "What Is This Thing Called Love"
Back to the Roots


  1. Clarke, Donald, Wishing on the Moon: The Life and Times of Billie Holiday (Viking, 1994), p. 429; Kunz, Mary, "A Mellower But Still Twinkling Kay Starr," Buffalo News, September 26, 2000.
  2. "Kay Starr biography". Members.tripod.com. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  3. The songs Starr sang were in Hutton's key and Starr said she sounded like "a jazzed up Alfalfa" since they weren't in her range. "'They would ask me, 'is that in your range? and I didn't know so I just said yes because I only knew two kinds of ranges-one of them you cooked on and the other was where the cows were.[...] I just loved music and I thought as long as I start and end with the band I've done my job." Kay Starr to Will Friedwald, A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, 2010, New York, Pantheon Books, p. 443.
  4. "Show 2 - Play a Simple Melody: American pop music in the early fifties. Part 2". Digital.library.unt.edu. Retrieved 2011-08-03.
  5. Order Christmas Records Now, The Billboard, December 9, 1950, page 17
  6. There's Christmas in the Air, The Billboard, November 29, 1952, page 29.
  7. Belcher, David (3 November 2016). "Kay Starr, Hillbilly Singer With Crossover Appeal, Dies at 94". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
  8. Rosen, Jody (25 June 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2019.
  9. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records. p. 525. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
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