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Kay Starr


1922 - 2016 Obituary Condolences Gallery
Kay Starr Obituary
1922 - 2016 Kay Starr, popular blues and jazz singer of the 1940s and 1950s best known for her chart-toppers "Wheel of Fortune" and "Rock and Roll Waltz", died November 3, 2016 at her Bel Air, CA home. She was 94 years old. She was born Katherine Laverne Starks on July 21, 1922, in Dougherty, OK, to Harry Starks, a full-blood Iroquois Indian, and his wife, Annie Coll Starks, of mixed Native American and Irish blood. The family moved to Dallas, and by the time she was seven years old, Kay had her own radio show. The family relocated to Memphis, where she continued singing and as a teenager had stints with the Joe Venuti orchestra and the Bob Crosby and Glenn Miller bands. In Memphis she sang a mix of country and pop, and it was there she changed her name to Kay Starr because of the frequent misspellings of her name by fans. After graduating from high school, she moved to Los Angeles and in 1947 signed a contract with Capitol Records, a label which included noted performers Peggy Lee, Ella Mae Morse, Jo Stafford and Margaret Whiting. On a trip back home to Oklahoma, she heard a fiddle recording of "Bonaparte's Retreat" and inquired if there were lyrics. There were none, but Roy Acuff of Acuff-Rose publishers, which owned the rights to the song, said to her, "Little lady, we'll write the lyrics if you are serious," and "Bonaparte's Retreat" became one of the biggest hits to date in her career. Back in Los Angeles, she signed with RCA Victor Records, where her repertoire included a foray into rock and roll with the very successful "Rock and Roll Waltz." She continued to record pop and country in addition to her beloved jazz and blues, which earned her kudos from the great Billie Holiday, who called Starr "the only white woman who could sing the blues." In 1955 Starr's contract with the Flamingo (Vegas) ended and she signed a Million Dollar five-year contract with the Sahara Hotel. This contract was extended by three years. She was the first female vocalist to sign a Million Dollar deal in Las Vegas. Hit after hit continued, and six of her recordings earned million-record status: "Wheel of Fortune," "Rock and Roll Waltz," "Bonaparte's Retreat," "Side by Side," "If you Love Me' and "My Heart Reminds Me." She continued singing professionally into her 80s and made regular concert and television appearances, including performances with Helen O'Connell, Margaret Whiting, Rosemary Clooney, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Tony Bennett. Kay Starr is survived by a daughter, Katherine Yardley, and a grandson, Paul Yardley, and dear friend Annie Boddington. No services are planned. (Respectfully submitted by long-time friend Bill Lorance)
Published in the Los Angeles Times from Nov. 12 to Nov. 13, 2016
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