Kay Starr, the lady they called the Hillybilly singer with the crossover appeal has died at the age of 94.
She was born Katherine Laverne Starks in Oklahoma and became known also as the Jukebox Queen because so many of her songs were on endless play on thousands of jukeboxes across America. Having served with Bob Crosby and his Orchestra in 1939 she was then briefly hired by Glenn Miller to temporarily replace his regular singer Marion Hutton but then she launched her solo career in 1946 and was soon described by the blues legend Billie Holliday as “the only white woman who could sing the blues”. In an interview in 1981 Kay said, “People who haven’t seen me either think I’m a 260-pound peroxide blonde or a 260-pound black woman. Whites sing one-two-three-four. I sing between the beat, in the cracks, any old way.”
She had a number of million-selling singles including her biggest hit, Wheel of Fortune which spent 10 weeks at the top of the US chart in February 1952. It sold very well in the UK but only on the sheet music chart as the UK hit parade didn’t begin until November of that year. She had two UK number ones, Comes A-Long A-Love in 1953 and Rock And Roll Waltz in 1956. She was the first act to chart using the words Rock and Roll in the title even though it was a waltz. She was also the first act to have her first and last UK hits being number ones.
In the mid-fifties when Rock and Roll swept in to washed away many performers she took to the road and spent the next three decades touring. She recorded a few albums in the sixties and in 1988 she performed with Helen O’Connell and Margaret Whiting in the show 3 Girls. Four years later she came to the UK to tour with Pat Boone on his April Love tour. In 2001 she appeared with Tony Bennett singing Blue and Sentimental on his album Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues.
In recent years, she devoted herself to Native American affairs and was married six times. She died on 3rd November after suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.