Pretty Kitty Kallen began her singing career before she was a teenager, with her own radio show on WCAU Philadelphia. She became a big band vocalist at age 14, first with Jan Savitt in 1936 and later with the legendary Artie Shaw. At age 18 Kallen joined Jack Teagarden’s band and married clarinetist Clint Garvin. Eventually the couple had a falling out with Teagarden, and then with each other; the marriage was annulled.
Kallen joined Bobby Sherwood’s orchestra, but this ended quickly due to an opening in Jimmy Dorsey’s band. Her vocals graced “Besame Mucho,” one of Jimmy Dorsey’s top hits. Kallen then scored a top 10 in 1944 with “They’re Either Too Young Or Too Old,” but she was mostly known for her duets with vocalist Bob Eberly during her tenure with Dorsey.
In 1945 Kallen joined Harry James’ band, where she rocketed to stardom. Providing solid, clear vocals in what were almost a “counterpoint” to James’ oozing trumpet, it was a combination that couldn’t miss. One such hit was “I’m Beginning to See the Light.”
Kallen struck gold on radio, in film, and eventually in nightclubs. Her best known performance from her time with Harry James was “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” which topped the charts for a month in 1945. Timing couldn’t be better; the song perfectly captured the mood of a nation welcoming home its war heroes. Even for those who hadn’t sent a loved one overseas, the undercurrent of war had lasted a long, long time. Seldom has a popular song meshed so well with the mood of the nation.
It’s Been a Long, Long Time
After the musician’s union strike, Kallen struck out on her own. In early 1949, Kitty Kallen had her first hit under her own name with “Kiss Me Sweet” with Mitch Miller. In 1950, “Juke Box Annie” hit the top 20. In September of that year “Our Lady Of Fatima” cracked the top 10 and hung around the charts for three months. Move ahead to 1951, and “The Abba Dabba Honeymoon,” a duet with Richard Hayes, pushed close to number one.
Unfortunately things didn’t stay at the top for Kitty Kallen. She disappeared completely; legend has it that she lost her voice. Kallen returned to the charts in 1953 with “Are You Looking For a Sweetheart,” but this was just a hint of what was to come. In 1954 she flirted with the top of the charts with a cover version of “In The Chapel In The Moonlight,” then stormed to the #1 spot with “Little Things Mean a Lot.” It remained at the top of the charts for ten weeks, making it one of the most dominant #1 standards in the history of American pop. If her voice was lost, she surely had found it again.
The record was named “Song of the Year” and Kallen was “Most Popular Female Singer” by Billboard magazine for 1954.
Kallen had a few minor hits in the ensuing years, but the onslaught of rock and roll simply crowded her off the charts. Her final hit came in 1963, when “My Coloring Book” hit number 18 on the national charts.
So what of the legendary “lost voice?” Kallen’s vocal virtually purrs on “Little Things,” and if you listen to it alongside hits from a decade earlier, it is a different sound, possibly as a result of damaged vocal cords. On the other hand, Kallen had been singing professionally for almost 20 years when her “disappearance” occurred — it is hard to accept a rumor that has never been totally confirmed by the artist herself.
Another wrinkle to the Kitty Kallen story is that there were supposedly as many as three known look-alike “imposters” circulating and booking performance as “Kitty Kallen” at the height of her popularity. This is difficult to document; perhaps it is best to leave it alone, as it adds some mystique to one of the most under-appreciated female vocalists in the history of pop music.
On the personal side, Pretty Kitty Kallen was married to Budd Granoff, a famous publicist, agent, and television producer for more than 45 years. To her death in 2016 she called herself Kitty Kallen Granoff.