It was Starr’s turn to see the world, and see the world she did. In June of 1939, she received an offer to sing with The Glenn Miller Orchestra, the most famous band in the country at that time. She replaced ailing vocalist Marion Hutton and made her first recordings “Love With A Capitol You,” and “Baby Me” on the Bluebird label. Starr graduated from high school in 1940 and moved to California, where she continued to work with Venuti until 1941.
By 1943, Starr was hired to replace Lena Horne in the Charlie Barnet Band and then signed to Decca Records, which recorded her bluesy rendition of “Share Croppin’ Blues”. Starr’s singing career was abruptly interrupted in 1945 when she caught pneumonia and collapsed during an Army camp show. She lost her voice and refrained from speaking and singing for six months.
“The only white woman that could sing the blues”— Billie Holiday
Finding Her Voice
After her brief hiatus, Starr returned to the music scene with a deeper and huskier voice, which is became known as her trademark. Starr had no trouble in finding work. She moved to Los Angeles and her solo career began to take off. After making a name for herself in several Hollywood nightclubs, Starr was invited to sing on the Capitol Records label with Dave Dexter on the “Volumes of Jazz” series in 1945.
She was then signed to a contract with Capitol Records in 1947, joining the likes of Peggy Lee, Ella Mae Morse, Jo Stafford, and Margaret Whiting. In 1950, her cover of Perry Como’s “Hoop Dee Doo” reached the number two spot on the charts, and the hits kept on coming with the 1952 release of “Wheel Of Fortune” which became the number two top-selling single of that year, earning Starr her first gold record.
In 1956, RCA Records signed Starr and produced “The Rock And Roll Waltz", a million-selling gold record, the number two top selling single in the U.S., and the number one single on the U.K. charts. That hit made Starr the first female with a top hit in the rock'n'roll era.Starr was a regular performer at Harrah’s Casinos in Reno and Tahoe
Photo courtesy Bill Lorance Personal Collection
As a solo artist, Starr returned to Capitol Records where she recorded jazz, blues, and even country. She toured the world with her unique style of singing, captivating audiences across the United States and England with her bluesy jazz repertoire. Starr was known for wowing the crowds in Las Vegas at big hotels like the Sands, Riveria, and Fremont Hotels, and at Harrah’s in Reno, Nevada. Count Basie took a liking to Starr, and the two paired up to record an album in 1968.