Happy birthday, Kitty Kallen!

Kitty Kallen quoteSadly, there aren’t terribly many performers still with us who enjoyed success during the Cladrite Era—all the more reason, then, to celebrate songbird Kitty Kallen‘s 93rd birthday.

Kallen, born Katherine Kalinsky in 1922 in Philadelphia, sang on the radio as a child on a program called The Children’s Hour, which was sponsored by Horn and Hardart, the Automat people, and as a teenager, she had occasions to sing with the big bands of Jan Savitt (in 1936), Artie Shaw (in 1938), and Jack Teagarden (in 1940).

At 21, she replaced Helen O’Connell as the singer for the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, primarily performing duets with Bob Eberly. After Eberly entered military service in 1943, Kallen joined the Harry James Orchestra, with whom she sang on several hit songs, including two—“I’m Beginning To See the Light” and “It’s Been a Long, Long Time”—that reached #1 on the charts.

But Kallen’s career didn’t end when the big band era did. Her 1954 hit, “Little Things Mean a Lot,” was number one in the U.S. for nine weeks and remained on chart for nearly seven months, selling more than two million copies in the process. She had many more hits throughout the 1950s and early ’60s

She also appeared frequently on television, on Broadway in Finian’s Rainbow, in many of the world’s top nightclubs and in at least one motion picture. On her final album, Quiet Nights, she sang in the bossa nova style. A lung ailment would eventually force her retirement, but Ms. Kallen is still with us and we sincerely hope she enjoys a wonderful birthday today.

Unraveling the Mystery of Maude Johnson Oakes

Maude Ellen Johnson Oakes in 1937

Longtime readers will recall our fondness for the television program Who Do You Think You Are? and our interest in learning more about our great-grandmother, Maude Ellen Johnson Oakes, who as a teenager in the 1890s traveled with her family in a covered wagon from Illinois to Oklahoma.

Maude lived to the ripe old age of 92, so she witnessed firsthand an astonishing amount of change in the world. As we wrote in our previous post about her, after coming to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, she lived long enough to see men on the moon, not to mention the advent of cars, radio, moving pictures and television, women being given the right to vote (she was nearly 40 at the time), the civil rights movement, and on and on.

She missed out on the internet by a good many years, though, and that’s a shame, in a way, because that’s how we continue to pick up more tidbits about her.

We already knew that, in 1920, Maude and her then-husband, Patterson Oakes, lived in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, about 60 miles south of Oklahoma City, with their three teenage sons. Patterson was a rural carrier (mailman? Not sure) and Maude was a salesclerk at a dry goods store.

1922 McCall's advertisementBut shortly thereafter, Patterson apparently did Maude wrong once too often and she divorced him (we have no idea what his offense was, but our grandfather never once spoke of him to his own children, much less us grandkids). The three sons graduated from Pauls Valley High and shortly thereafter Maude moved with the boys to Norman, Oklahoma, where Herbert, Cecil (our grandfather) and Elmer all attended the University of Oklahoma.

We knew that Maude was eventually employed by that same university, working in the women’s gymnasium (she continued working there into her 80s and protested loudly and long when they finally made her retire), but we hadn’t known what she did prior to that after gathering up her belongings and her boys and moving to Norman from Pauls Valley.

But we stumbled upon some new info recently, thanks to the Oklahoma Historical Society’s website. McCall’s was, it seems, a prominent Norman department store. It was in operation by 1909 (and quite possibly earlier), and its slogan that year was “McCall’s: The Daylight Store”; by 1922, the good folks at McCall’s were going with “Norman’s Greatest Store.”

From a 1922 McCall’s advertisement that appeared in a newspaper called The Norman Transcript (still in operation today), we learned that Maude was a department manager at McCall’s—Staple Cottons and Linens was the department she oversaw. And as you’ll see, the advertisement even included a photograph of our Maude.

And all this by typing a couple of key words into the search tool on the OHS website. We think Maude would be impressed!

Happy Birthday, Billie Holiday!

The late, utterly great Billie Holiday was born 100 years ago today, and we recommend you spend the whole day listening to her records to mark the occasion.

Her later recordings, when her health was letting her down and her demons were catching up to her, don’t hold the romantic appeal for us that they do for many, but hoo-boy, when she was young and healthy, she was amazing.

Happy birthday, Lady Day. We miss you around these parts.

Billie Holiday quote