25 May 1922
Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, United States
7 January 2016 (aged 93)
Kitty Kallen (born Katherine Kalinsky; May 25, 1921 – January 7, 2016) was an American popular singer whose career spanned from the 1930s to the 1960s—to include the Swing era of the Big Band years, the post-WWII pop scene and the early years of rock 'n roll.
She is best known for her 1954 solo recording '"Little Things Mean a Lot" — a song that stayed at the U.S. number one spot for nine consecutive weeks, charted in the U.S. for almost seven months, hit #1 on the UK singles chart, and sold more than two million copies. AllMusic called the recording a "monster hit", music historian Jonny Whiteside said the song "ably characterizes Kallen’s impressive, and graceful, transition from classic big band swing to modern post-war pop".
Voted "most popular female singer" in 1954 in both Billboard and Variety polls, Kallen lost her voice at the Palladium in 1955 at the top of her career and left singing for four years, suffering paralyzed vocal cords. After testing her voice under a pseudonym in small town venues, she ultimately returned and went on to achieve 13 top-ten career hits.
Kallen performed at numerous prominent live venues including Manhattan's Copacabana, Morris Levy's Versailles, the Capitol Theater, the Maisonette Room at the St. Regis, the Cafe Rouge at the Hotel Pennsylvania and the Plaza Hotel's Persian Room. As well, she starred on Broadway in Finian's Rainbow; in the 1955 film The Second Greatest Sex and on numerous television shows including The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Big Beat with singer-host Richard Hayes, American Bandstand, and Fred Allen's Judge for Yourself. In 1951, Kallen appeared with Buster Crabbe as the Queen and King of Winter at the Lake Placid resort.
During the height of her popularity, three imposters billed themselves as "Kitty Kallen". When one of them — Genevieve Agostinello — died in 1978, it was incorrectly reported that Kallen herself had died. On February 8, 1960, Kallen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (located on the north side of Hollywood Boulevard at #7021), and in 2009 she was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
Some sources give Kallen's birth name as Katherine Kalinsky, but according to records cited by her son, the name was Katie Kallen. She was born May 25, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, one of seven children, to Russian Jewish immigrants Samuel and Rose Kalinsky (later Kallen). As a child, she won an amateur contest by imitating popular singers. When she returned home with her prize, a camera, her father did not believe her, and punished her for stealing the camera. Only when neighbors subsequently visited to congratulate her, did Kallen's father realize she had actually won it.
While performing with Jack Teagarden's band, she married Clint Garvin, the band's clarinet player. When Teagarden fired Garvin, Kallen left as well, later annulling the marriage. In 1948, Kallen married Bernard "Budd" Granoff, a publicist, agent, and television producer. He later became a pioneering television syndicator. The couple, married for over forty-five years until Granoff's death in 1996, had a son, Jonathan Granoff, President of the Global Security Institute and Adjunct Professor of International Law at Widener University School of Law.
In 1977, Kallen sued her dermatologist, Norman Orentreich, after he prescribed an estrogen drug, Premarin, for her small facial wrinkles. She subsequently suffered blood clots in her lungs, caused directly by the drug, and won $300,000 by the court's decision.
In 2008, Kallen joined artists Patti Page, Tony Martin, Dick Hyman, Richard Hayman and the estates of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan, Woody Herman, Les Brown, the Mills Brothers, Jerry Murad, Frankie Laine, and the gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe in a suit against the world's then largest music label, Universal Music Group, alleging the company had cheated them on royalties.
Kallen died on January 7, 2016 at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the age of 94.
As a young girl Kallen sang on The Children's Hour, a radio program sponsored by Horn & Hardart, an automat chain. As a pre-teen, Kallen had a radio program on Philadelphia's WCAU, and sang with the big bands of Jan Savitt in 1936, Artie Shaw in 1938, and Jack Teagarden in 1940.
Shortly before her 21st birthday, on May 5, 1942, she sang the vocals for "Moonlight Becomes You" with Bobby Sherwood and His Orchestra at the second every session for what was then still called Liberty Records but would soon be renamed Capitol Records. It was her only session for the label.
Just 21, she joined the Jimmy Dorsey band, replacing Helen O'Connell. In every theater of World War II, a favorite of American servicemen, "They're Either Too Young or Too Old". In 1944, Kallen performed the vocals for Dorsey's number-one hit "Besame Mucho". Most of her singing assignments were in duets with Bob Eberly, and when Eberly left to go into the service toward the end of 1943, she joined Harry James' band.
Between January and November 1945, Kitty Kallen had two songs recorded with the Harry James Orchestra in the top twenty, six in the top ten, and two at the #1 spot—"I'm Beginning to See the Light" and "It's Been a Long, Long Time", which remains deeply associated with the end of World War II and the returning troops.
With the 1954 hit "Little Things Mean a Lot", Kallen was voted most popular female singer in Billboard and Variety polls. She followed up this song with "Chapel in the Moonlight", another million selling record, and a version of "True Love" for Decca. In 1959, she recorded "If I Give My Heart to You" for Columbia Records, and in 1963, she recorded a top-selling version of "My Coloring Book" for RCA. Her final album was Quiet Nights, a bossa nova–flavored release for 20th Century Fox Records. Subsequently, Kallen retired due to a lung ailment.
A compilation of her hits on various labels remains available on the Sony CD set The Kitty Kallen Story.
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