Monday, November 29, 2010

Ohhhhhh. . .Kay?

Singer Kay Penton, is by far the most difficult whatever-happened-to? personage that I’ve ever tried to trace. (They don’t call me the “Diva Detective” in Japan for nothin.‘ ) You wouldn’t think that this would be the case at all. Penton immediately followed my good friend Jane Harvey into the Benny Goodman band as the “girl singer“ in 1945, but Jane knew absolutely zip about her. Just the name. And Penton made a fair number of recordings with the memorable jazz arranger and composer Tadd (“If You Could See Me Now”) Dameron, but the musician’s biographer Ian McDonald wrote to me that every attempt on his part to unearth even the slightest bit of biographical information about the singer found him coming up empty-handed. Searching through various old newspaper archives and the show biz publication, Billboard, I came across a number of reviews of Penton, starting in the early 1940s, but the only truly substantial item I uncovered was one that appeared in Dorothy Kilgallen’s column in 1953 to the effect that Penton was keeping company with none other than (gasp) Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo, i.e. El Jefe, aka The Boss, whose three-decade reign (1930-1961) in that nation is recalled as being one of the bloodiest of the 20th Century. Shortly after that, Penton disappears from sight. Dunh-dunh-dunnnnn!

As far as Kay's recording career is concerned, aside from her stint with Goodman, the musical associations of Penton, a Caucasian, were nearly all African-American, including, besides Dameron, Teddy Wilson, Fats Navarro and Miles Davis. To say that this was highly unusual for those especially racially troubled times (circa 1945 - 1955) is an understatement of the first degree. It simply was not done! There might have been some other exceptions with other white, female singers, but certainly not to this extent. It is also curious that Penton was among the very first pactees Capitol Records signed when it was founded in 1942, and slated to originally be known as Victory Records. But if she ever recorded for the label, I have not been able unearth any sides. (The singer did eventually make some sides with a Tadd Dameron and Miles Davis for the label in 1949.)

Nothing about Penton, under her stage moniker, shows up in the SSI death index, nor does any obit appear in any U.S. newspaper under that name. Nor are there any photos of her on the internet. If Penton is still alive, she would probably be in her late eighties. I gotta confess, this one really has me stumped.

To the best of my knowledge, here is is Penton’s complete discography. Consisting of 19 recorded sides and two film Soundies.
There's No Ceiling on Love w/ Guy Lombardo duet w/ Billy Leach Decca
People Will Say We're in Love w/ Guy Lombarda duet w/ Billy Leach
Hip Hip Hooray w/ Henry Nemo, Soundie (1943)
What Good is Love Soundie (1943)
June is Bustin’ Out All Over w/ Benny Goodman, Columbia (1945)
Ain’t Misbehavin’ w/ Benny Goodman, Columbia (1945)
Yesterdays V Disc 720A (1947)
That Someone Must Be You, w/ Fats Navarro Savoy (1947)
Gone with the Wind w/ Fats Navarro, Savoy (1947)
I Think I'll Go Away Kay, w/ Tadd Dameron, V-Disc 794 (1947)
Don't Mention Love to Me w/ Tadd Dameron, V-Disc 794 (1947)
As Time Goes By w/ Teddy Wilson Musicraft 580 1947
Isn't it Romantic / Teddy Wilson, Musicraft (1947)
These Foolish Things w/ Teddy Wilson, Musicraft 1947
Something I Dreamed Last Night w/ Teddy Wilson, Musicraft   (1947)
That Someone Must Be You w/ Fats Navarro, Savoy (1947)
Gone With the Wind w/ Fats Navarro, Savoy (1947)
What's New - w/ Tadd Dameron, Miles Davis, 4/21/49
Heaven's Doors are Open Wide w/ Tadd Dameron, Capitol (1949)
Plaything b/w Why (not Penton) Dana 100 (1950)
A New Town is a Blue Town - Mercury 70379 (1954)
I Was Meant for You - Mercury 70379 (1954)
Why Don’t You Be Good - Mercury 70418 (1954)
That’s You My Love - Mercury 70418 (1954)
Every Man Needs a Gal in His Corner / Hot Rod Heaven - Samson 888 (1955)

Was she any good? I think so. Very! But why don't you be the judge?

Update 11/29: Here's a  link to Penton's Isn't it Romantic w/Teddy Wilson (Thanks, Daniel)
Any other links out there?


Have unearthed a bit more info about Penton.

She was born in New Orleans in 1924 and began singing publicly at the age of five. There are a couple of articles in the New Orleans Times Picayune (4/15/40 & 3/4/42). I have not been able to access the articles, but only references to them in an archive index). Her first gig as a band singer was with Guy Lombardo (Louis Armstrong's favorite big band. . .seriously) in 1943, and by 1944 she already had her own Friday night radio show on CBS. One article about her at this time deemed her the "prettiest girl in radio" (radio. . .did it really matter?) and stated that three movie studios were courting her for a screen test. There is, however, no info on the net that these ever came to pass. In 1947, in Miami, FL, she married "textile magnate" Lou Bolton; the marriage, though, was annulled less than a month later. Somewhere along the way, she also dated John Hertz, the ex-spouse of Myrna Loy. Yes! John Hertz of the Rent-a-Car operation. Factor in her relationship with Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo (see above) along with this romantic factoid and you have to admit the gal really got around. 

Has anyone who was so high profile for so many years ever fallen so far below radar? Thirty years old. . .over and out. There's still not even a single photo of her on the internet. I now know that if she were alive today, she'd be 87.


Anonymous said...

It would be great if all Bill's readers could help to patch together her recordings by emailing Bill what recordings they have. I agree with Bill. She is good.


jeronimo said...

She's good...But thought at first you ment RAE PEARL (who sang/recorded at the same period with Dameron, remember her on 'Cabash' or a boppish interpretation of the changes on 'Out Of Nowhere'...


Anonymous said...

a wonderful voice, i'm happy to know it. thanks bill


Anonymous said...

maybe this is a picture of her?
Pittsburgh Press 20 April 1954, p 13,1056274&dq=kay-penton&hl=en

JohnnyLovesRecords said...

Bill, I am a sold on Kay Penton! I would really like a chance to get a copy of the Kay Penton CD. Is there a way that I can obtain a copy?

Unknown said...

Thanks for this data. I too am very interested in any more information anyone can find on Kay Penton as she looks like many of my family members and she shares a love of music and song. I'll be making some inquiries here and post any results.

Bill Reed said...

It would mean a lot to ME also. K.P. is just about the Whatever Happened To? riddle I've not been able to crack. The trail ends with her seen out on the town with Rafael Trujillo and then . . . nada! To reitereate. . .fairly certain that she was born in New Orleans