While she was best known for her wistfully romantic 1954 chart-topper “Little Things Mean a Lot,” singer Kitty Kallen had previously enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a swing-era, big band vocalist.
A gifted child with an expressive voice, Kallen had her own radio show on Philadelphia‘s WCAU at age 11 and within a few years, when she was just 14, was featured as a vocalist for bandleader Jan Savit. By 16, she had graduated to a spot with the great clarinetist Artie Shaw.
Billed as “Pretty Kitty” Kallen, she was far more than just easy on the eyes. As a band vocalist, Kallen was compelled to hold her own against the best girl singers in the business, giants like Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Forrest and Anita O’Day, and demonstrated more than a few times that she had the pipes and chops to compete. Her resume included stints with the biggest and most artistically progressive units in the field: Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Harry James and Shaw, with whom she recorded a highly regarded version of the steamy standard “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” Replacing Helen O’Connell in Dorsey’s aggregation, Kallen’s arresting vocals propelled his 1944 version of “Besame Mucho” to No. 1 on the pop chart.
By the early 1950s, the heyday of the great swing bands was ending and Kallen concentrated on radio and nightclub work. She was sidelined temporarily in the early '50s when her voice gave out but, but by 1954 Kallen’s throat and drive were again in top condition. Recording for Decca, her “Little Things Mean a Lot” was a smash that Billboard magazine designated as the year’s top disk, and ably characterizes Kallen’s impressive, and graceful, transition from classic big band swing to modern post-war pop.
Kallen died Jan. 7, 2016 as her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico. She was 94.