Passings: Kay Starr (1922 - 2016)

by VVN Music

Kay Starr, who topped the charts with Wheel of Fortune and Rock and Roll Waltz, died Thursday in her home in Beverly Hills, CA from complications of Alzheimer's disease. She was 94.

Starr was born Katherine Starks on a reservation in Dougherty, OK, the daughter of a full Iroquois tribe Native American and a mother of Irish and Native American descent. Raised while young in Dallas, TX, her aunt heard her singing at the age of 7 while tending to the family chickens and arranged for her to perform on Dallas station WRR. Starting with talent competitions, she eventually moved up to her own 15-minute show on the station.

In her mid-Teens, her family moved to Memphis where she continued her radio career at WMPS, performing mainly western swing music. At 15, she became the singer for the Joe Venuti Orchestra with whom she recorded her first records.  After high school, she moved to Los Angeles to sing with Wingy Manone and Charlie Barnet but was forced to take a year off due to pneumonia and nodes on her vocal chords.

Starr signed with Capitol in 1947 and reached the top ten the next year with So Tired. By 1950 she was regularly having hits with songs like Hoop-De-Doo (1950 / #2), Bonaparte's Retreat (1950 / #4), I'll Never Be Free (with Tennessee Ernie Ford, 1950 / #3) and Oh! Babe (1950 / #7).

Between 1949 and 1954, Starr had thirteen top ten records in the U.S. including a number 1 in 1952 with Wheel of Fortune but, with the onset of rock music, pure pop records started to wain in sales. In 1955, Starr signed with RCA and, at the beginning of 1956, scored her second number 1 with The Rock and Roll Waltz which, despite the title, was more of a pop song with a little rock rhythm thrown in to make it relevant at the time.

Kay had one last hit in 1957 with My Heart Reminds Me (#9) but, for the rest of her career, was mainly an albums artist concentrating jazz, blues and country. She also continued to tour well into her 80's and recorded a duet with Tony Bennett for his 2001 album Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues.

Starr was married six times and is survived by a daughter and a grandchild.

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