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Kay Starr: The Complete Lamplighter Recordings 1945-46

“Wheel of Fortune,” Kay Starr’s 1952 hit single, made her an international pop star, bringing her commercial success following a 15-year career as a critically acclaimed but low-profile jazz singer. In her mid-teens, the Oklahoma-born vocalist toured with violinist Joe Venuti, and subsequently enjoyed associations with bands headed by Wingy Manone and Charlie Barnet.

Although intermittently returning to jazz after achieving pop stardom-notably a 1962 Capitol ballad collection featuring Ben Webster and Gerald Wiggins, and a 1975 GNP Crescendo album with Red Norvo, Blue Mitchell and Jimmy Rowles-her achievements as a straight-ahead jazz vocalist have been largely forgotten. Arriving on the heels of last year’s Hep reissue, I’ve Got to Sing 1944-1948, The Complete Lamplighter Sessions 1945-1946 helps to correct this oversight.

The Baldwin Street CD collects 18 tracks recorded for Ted Yerxa’s Lamplighter label, backed by Ellington clarinetist Barney Bigard’s small groups variously featuring trombonist Vic Dickenson, pianist Milt Raskin, bassist Red Callendar and drummer Zutty Singleton. A 10-track “bonus program” includes an aircheck of Starr, just 17, singing “Memphis Blues” with Bob Crosby’s orchestra, performances with Manone and Barnet, and four 1947 live concert sides with Barney Kessel’s quartet. Producer Ted Ono’s meticulously researched album notes clarify the complex history of this previously hard-to-find material.

From the earliest sessions, Starr’s hotly swinging, crisp-edged singing place her firmly in the jazz vocal tradition, with distinct echoes of Bessie Smith in her blues numbers and the influences of Mildred Bailey and Connee Boswell on swing tunes and ballads. Had she chosen to remain a jazz singer, her heartfelt, rhythmically propulsive work would surely have won her plaudits from the jazz community.

Originally Published