Dinah Kaye: Jazz singer who worked with Louis Armstrong

Saturday 22 October 2011 08:48

Dinah Kaye was one of the most popular jazz and blues singers of the 1950s and 1960s. She appeared weekly on Humphrey Lyttelton's jazz programme and had regular slots on radio programmes such as Saturday Club and Easy Beat. She was born Kay Cumming in Burma in 1924 to Scottish parents. The family returned to Scotland when she was five years old and she spent her childhood in Edinburgh. She loved to sing, and entered local singing competitions. She had a distinctive husky, smoky voice and her first public performances were singing with local bands and in jazz clubs.

Kaye first went to London in 1943 and became resident singer with Harry Parry and his orchestra. After touring with them for a few years, she left to go freelance and spent two years in the Netherlands. On returning to London, she became the popular resident singer at Fischer's and had regular spots at the Savoy Club and Café de Paris. Edmundo Ros's Coconut Grove was another popular spot for her. In great demand, she sang with many of the popular bands of the day: Nat Allen, Cyril Stapleton, Tommy Sampson and Terry Lightfoot, to name a few.

Edmundo Ros chose Kaye to record with him for Decca and she sang "Jealous Eyes". The record caused a stir, and she signed with Decca as a solo artist. Her first record for them was "Just Another Polka" produced by Dick Rowe. Billy Daniels, the popular singer of "That Old Black Magic", heard her work and took her to the US to pursue her career there. Decca immediately released her record there.

This was an exciting new phase in her career: she appeared with Louis Armstrong, who remained a friend throughout her time in America. She also supported Tony Bennett and travelled extensively in America and Canada, appearing with many of the big names and making friends in the American showbiz world. After four years in the US, she came home and relaunched her career in London.

She sang in night clubs and restaurants and, in July 1962, Acker Bilk threw a party in London for Kaye before she went to Poland to represent the UK at the Sopot Jazz Festival, where she sang new words to the tune "Stranger on the Shore" and was presented with a Silver Salver.

During the 1950s and '60s, Kaye toured in South Africa, Israel, Poland, Malta, Tanzania, Rhodesia, West Germany and Switzerland, and was well-received everywhere she went. As an indication of her popularity here, she came second to Cleo Laine in a 1965 Melody Maker Jazz Poll. She broadcast regularly on the BBC, as well as in many of the countries she visited.

Kaye had a great sense of humour and had fun with many of the stars with whom she appeared, and she always enjoyed an excellent rapport with her audience.

Pam MacKinnon

Dinah Kaye, singer: born Burma 2 February 1924; died Edinburgh 12 September 2011.

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