It was with great sadness that The Year of Tony Bennett learned that Kay Starr passed away on November 3, 2016 at her home in Bel Air, California, from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease.
She was one of the great singers of the 20th century who did it all: country, western, popular, jazz, the blues and more. Of all of her accolades, I think the greatest came from Billie Holiday, who said that “she was the only white woman who could sing the blues.”
Kay Starr was born in Dougherty, Oklahoma on July 21, 1922, but soon moved with the family to Dallas, Texas. Her singing talents were recognized when she was quite young; she won many radio station talent contests as a child. She was only ten years old when she was earning $3 a night singing popular and hillbilly music.
After high school, she moved to Los Angeles and began working with Charlie Barnet’s band. In 1947, she was signed by Capitol Records, though found herself taking a back seat to the more established female singers. In spite of that, she steadily built a solid and long-lasting career as a singer.
Her background in pop, jazz and country-western type music was unusual, but put her in a position to sing all types of music, though her primary interest and leanings were to sing jazz and she became known as a “saloon singer” and was known for her emotional power and connection to the songs she sang.
We leave you with the duet she recorded with Tony Bennett in 2001 for the album Playin’ With My Friends: Tony Bennett Sings the Blues: “Blue and Sentimental.”