Big Band Chanteuse Kitty Kallen Epitomized an Era
|Kitty Kallen and fellow ingenue Doris Day spent a cold day in Central Park sometime during 1947 getting some publicity shots. Doris looks like her teeth are chattering.|
|Kitty Kallen with Bob Eberly, a fellow singer with Jimmy Dorsey.|
Kitty's biggest hit with Dorsey and Eberly was “Bésame Mucho." A Mexican bolero that was written by Consuelo Velázquez, “Bésame Mucho" went on to become the most sung and recorded Mexican song of all time, with Kitty's 1944 version hitting No. 1 on the pop charts. That Kitty sang “Bésame Mucho" to such acclaim will become significant below.
Eberly got drafted in late 1943, breaking up the act, so Kitty hitched her star with Harry James and his orchestra. It was a match made in heaven.
In those days, the emphasis was on the band, not on the singer. Typically, the singer would sing a quick "chorus" in the middle of the song, practically serving as one of the instruments doing a solo. Kitty was excellent at this task. Her emotional renditions also were perfectly aligned with the sentimental mood of a country making a dramatic transition from war to uncertain peace. Together, the Harry James Orchestra and Kitty Kallen had a phenomenal run of hits in the war's final year.
Kitty's No. 1 hits in 1945 included "I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "It's Been a Long, Long Time." The latter song has experienced something of a revival recently due to its inclusion in "The Winter Soldier," and deservedly so: it was a massive hit that encapsulates the feelings felt at the end of the war. All told, Kitty had eight top twenty hits just in 1945. It was a phenomenal run, and Kitty's voice came to define the era.
While nobody knew it at the time, the big band era was in its terminal phase as the war ended, so Kitty hit it perfectly right at its climax. While she had occasional hits during the late 1940s and early 1950s, they were few and far between. Kitty married Bernard "Budd" Granoff, a publicist, agent, and television producer, in 1948. Granoff helped Kitty enter a new phase of her career that, in unlikely fashion, brought her to her greatest heights.
|Kitty Kallen in a publicity still for "The Second Greatest Sex."|
|Kitty Kallen with Frank Laico at the CBS Records studio in Manhattan, 1958.|
Kitty also accomplished a pretty rare feat during her renewed fame in the 1950s. Throughout her entire career, Kitty Kallen had exactly one single that made the UK chart: "Little Things Mean A Lot." That one and only record, though, went to No. 1 in the UK. So, Kitty Kallen may well be the only recording artist in history who has a perfect record on a major national recording chart: exactly one song on the chart, and that a No. 1 hit. Offhand, I can't think of anyone else who did anything like that, though maybe some novelty act pulled it off at some point. Kitty Kallen was no novelty act, of course. People in the UK who know of Kitty know her for that song, not any of her previous big band hits.
|Kitty Kallen being used to hawk shampoo during her resurgence of popularity in the mid-1950s. Now that's fame.|
|Kitty Kallen's last big hit, "My Coloring Book."|
Kitty was a revered figure in Mexico due to her wartime rendition of “Bésame Mucho," and this likely contributed to Kitty's decision to have a home in Cuernavaca. She passed away there on 7 January 2016. Kitty is buried at Beth-El Cemetery Paramus, Bergen County, New Jersey, USA. Her classic recordings, however, live on and continue to evoke the passions of World War II and the postwar era.
|Kitty Kallen's resting place (Chuck Kearns).|