1940’s and 50’s vocalist Kitty Kallen died on Thursday at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the age of 94. Kallen had been a full time resident of the country after having lived much of her life in New Jersey.
Born Katherine Kalinsky on May 25, 1921, Kallen sang on numerous radio programs as a child and teen, eventually getting her own program on Philadelphia’s WCAU. In the late 30’s, she also sang with the bands of Jan Savitt, Artie Shaw and Jack Teagarden.
At the age of 21, she joined Jimmy Dorsey’s band, replacing Helen O’Connell, and scored her first national hit with They’re Either Too Young or Too Old (1943 / #2) and Star Eyes (1943 / #3). Her first of four number 1 records came the next year with Besame Mucho (1944 / #1).
Kallen was a constant presence in the top ten during the war years including a number with Harry James in 1945 such as I’m Beginning to See the Light (1945 / #1), I’ll Buy That Dream (1945 / #2) and It’s Been a Long, Long Time (1945 / #1).
In 1946, Kallen began releasing songs as a solo artist, along with a couple with Artie Shaw and Richard Hayes, but none were as successful as her wartime efforts. Then, in 1954, she had the biggest hit of her career when Little Things Mean a Lot, a song written by a Richmond, VA DJ and newspaper writer, went to the top of the U.S. charts for nine weeks.
A final hit followed, In the Chapel in the Moonlight (1954 / #4) but Kitty’s career was derailed in 1955 when she began having problems with her voice. For five years, she fought the situation, finally beginning to record again at the dawn of the new decade. She managed just one last top forty hit in 1962 with My Coloring Book (1962 / #18) and retired by the mid-60’s.
For years after, Kallen had to suffer through three different women claiming that they were Kitty Kallen and performing around the country. The situation came to a head in 1978 when the media reported Kallen’s death when, in fact, it was one of the impersonators.
Around the same time, Kitty began having problems with her lungs which was traced back to a drug that had been prescribed by her dermatologist. She sued the doctor, winning a large judgement.
Just seven years ago, Kallen joined a number of prominent artists from the 40’s and 50’s in suing Universal Music Group over underpaid royalties.
Kallen also appeared on Broadway in Finian’s Rainbow.
She had previously been married to Clint Garvin in the early-40’s and Bernard “Budd” Granoff from 1948 until his death in 1996. She is survived by her companion, Sonny Sheill, and three grandsons.
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