The Kitty Who Became A Songbird – Kitty Kallen   15 comments

A while back I was listening to a song on an outstanding blog, Days Of Transition, and it got me to thinking — always a perilous undertaking, but one that I keep attempting in spite of the danger. Anyhow, the song — “We’ll Meet Again,” performed by British songbird Vera Lynn — was so perfectly evocative of the spirit often shown during World War II that it brought to mind one of the songs from a boxed set that I reviewed a little over two years ago.

That set — the soundtrack from the Ken Burns documentary, The War — contained many tracks that seemed to capture a similar mood, but the one I especially remembered was “Waiting For The Train To Come In,” performed by Harry James and his orchestra with a vocal by Kitty Kallen. Trumpeter James, the subject of an earlier post, was one of the biggest stars of the era and helped a lot of singers gain fame. One of the best was Kitty Kallen.

The Philadelphia-born singer got her start in radio as a child, and was still just a teenager when she began appearing in the pre-war years with a series of bands, including those of Jan Savitt, Artie Shaw, and Bobby Sherwood. She grew up fast, and even married one of the musicians, but it was later annulled.

As the war began she continued to build her career, eventually moving on to a spot with Jimmy Dorsey’s outfit. Her first real taste of fame came when she provided the vocal on Dorsey’s big hit, “Besame Mucho,” but in 1943 she moved on to a job with Harry James. Along the way she married publicist Bud Granoff, a union that would last until his death forty-five years later.

During her time with the James’ band, she enjoyed some solid hits with songs like “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” and in the post-war years she began to build a solid solo career. Appearing often on radio and continuing to make records, by the early Fifties she’d struck gold with a couple of songs — “In The Chapel By The Moonlight” and “Little Things Mean A Lot,” which would become her signature song. (Video below.)

Her career continued to flourish and even expanded as she became a popular draw on many TV shows, but like many of her era who were faced with a fickle public’s changing tastes in popular music, her popularity eventually began to diminish. Even though she had a minor hit in the Sixties with “My Coloring Book,” Kitty Kallen eventually settled into retirement, although she did resurface briefly in the late Seventies when a Kitty Kallen impostor died. The real Kitty Kallen would now be in her eighties and is presumably still among us, enjoying her legacy.

(LATER: sorry, but video no longer available.)

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15 responses to “The Kitty Who Became A Songbird – Kitty Kallen

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  1. Thanks for the kind mention, dear friend. And I have to tell you that with this post you’re hitting my Mother Lode, the wellspring of my affection for the music of this era. The combined sounds of James’s band and Kallen’s voice remind me of all the scenes of my very young childhood, especially of the excitement I felt when my parents would get dressed up for a rare night on the town–my father in the usual suit and tie; my mother all done up in the green peau-de-soie gown she made herself, the scent of her Lanvin perfume lingering in the air long after they’d left. “I’m Beginning to See the Light” is the quintessence of whatever it is I’m conjuring here…glamour, “supper clubs,” sophistication, and yet, since it’s my childhood I’m talking about, a certain coziness, as well. Often what’s being said in a song has no bearing whatsoever on the feelings it engenders. This is a true case in point.

    Oddly, “Little Things Mean A Lot” was the first time I was aware of the singer called Kitty Kallen, even though I had so enjoyed her earlier stylings. It wasn’t until much later that I found out it was she who was singing on :Beginning to See the Light.”

  2. Appreciate your comments, Ralph. Thoughtful and poignant as always.

    You probably have “I’m Beginning To See The Light” but if not, here’s a LINK to a Youtube of it. (no film or pictures, just music.)

    Thanks again for the input.

  3. Kitty sends regrets to her fans, but she will no longer be autographing cards or letters.
    Kitty’s actual birthdate is May 25 1921
    Kitty is still “Pretty Kitty Kallen” even at eighty-five.

    Dr. Irwin C. Shiell
  4. I once sponsored autograph shows and did the likes of Kathryn Grayson, Margret O’Brien, Jane Russell, and Rhonda Fleming. I would have loved to have done one with somebody who had a voice that was so pure and so magical as Kitty Kallen. Wish she would get more credit. When we did a show we made 500 lithographs ( history of their career) and gave half of them to the celebrity for their charities. Kitty Kallen you have a rich history and again I wish the public knew more about you. Hope all is well with you. As Eleanor Powell said. “What we are is God’s gift to us. What we become is our gift back to God.” You have given ALL of us a great gift with that magical voice that has given many hours of joy listening to you. God Bless You.

  5. Kitty Kallen is now ninety years old.[Birth date May 25, 1921] She is living in Cuernavaca, Mexico. She is still “Pretty Kitty Kallen.” She is surronded by those who love her.

    Dr. Irwin C. Shiell
  6. That’s good to know. Thanks.

  7. She is one of the few big band singers left – what a voice and what an icon.

  8. Thanks for the comment, David.

    You have a quite a website yourself (readers, you can reach David’s Trip Down Memory Lane website by clicking on his name above). If you don’t mind, I’ll add it to my blogroll and maybe you’ll reciprocate.

  9. I added you to my blogroll! Hope your readers like my blog as well. I am addicted to yours!

  10. November 1, 2012: Kitty Kallen is still with us at age ninety-one, living in her vacation home in Mexico.
    Dr. Irwin C. Shiell..

    Dr. Irwin C. Shiell
    • To Dr. Shiell,
      Miss Kallen was a friend of my father a long time ago in Philadelphia. I sent her a letter that was received at her Englewood, NJ home in April 2013. I did not know she owns a home in Mexico. If you speak to her, tell her that this letter is of personal importance to her.
      Thanks..

    • wish her all the best of heath and happiness , john england

  11. There are many great voices today but not the interpretation of the artists like Kitty because it
    can’t be done with music that doesn’t have all the 5 characteristics that separate music from noise.
    thanks Ms Kallen
    Steve B

  12. As of July 2015, Kitty is still living in Mexico, and is now ninety-four years old. She is still “pretty Kitty Kallen.”

    Dr. Irwin C. Shiell
  13. Miss Kallen came into a store I Managed in Paramus New Jersey Coldwater Creek she was just so lovely, when I told her I was a fan and loved her Song Little Things Mean A lot she was so happy . Next time she came back to my store she brought me one of her CD ,We had a lovely chat told me she lived in Mexico part time .If Dr Shiell reads this give her my best . .

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