The Singers

Although the Stan Kenton Orchestra was known for its creative writing and innovative soloists, for most of its history a vocalist shared the stage with the instrumentalists. Some became stars and stayed for years. Others came and went so quickly as to elude any permanent record.

Anita O’Day was the Kenton band’s first star singer. Already a box-office draw after her days with Gene Krupa, she added a sassy swinging element that contrasted with Gene Howard’s silky smooth vocals. June Christy was virtually unknown when she replaced O’Day, but soon her star outshone her predecessor, as she garnered first place ribbons, one after another.

Through the 1940s Kenton had a male vocalist sharing duties with the female. Tenor man Red Dorris filled this role admirable for several years before being drafted. He returned to the band briefly after the war, but he was a shell of his former self, and left in short order. Gene Howard didn’t have the grit that Dorris had, but handled sappy ballads admirably. In the early 1950s Jay Johnson was the last full time male vocalist to tour with the band.

In 1952 and 1953 two husky voiced singers, Jerri Winters and Chris Connor, both came and went, leaving their marks and gathering fans. Maynard Ferguson’s wife, Kay Brown, sang with the band for a spell, but didn’t captivate audiences to the degree others had. By mid-decade, Ann Richards, Mrs. Stan Kenton, was the featured vocalist, and a star on the rise.

In the next decade Kenton was showcasing Jean Turner on tours and on a swinging album. Although there were vocalists who appeared with the band after Turner, she is generally considered to be the last Kenton band singer.

Interestingly, the first and last vocal soloist to record with the Stan Kenton Orchestra was Kenton himself, warbling St. James Infirmary in comic fashion in 1941 and later in 1972. With such hard hitting, oft times raucous, sounds emanating from the band, Kenton frequently offered up comic bits to break the tension. Although other light-hearted numbers came and went, featuring part-time vocalists Ray Wetzel, Frank Rosolino, and Shelly Manne, St. James remained in the book from the beginning to the end. Audiences seemed to enjoy the silly banter between the leader and his musicians.

St. James Infirmary (arr. Stan Kenton) 1 September 1941

St. James Infirmary (head arrangement) 22 June 1972

The Women

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The Early Years

Clessa Burke
Gail Sherwood
Kay Gregory

Helen Huntley
Terry Harlyn
Eve Knight

1941-1942

Dolly Mitchell

Although there were female vocalists that preceded her on the Kenton band, Dolly Mitchell’s eighteen months place her as the first in a line of singers who were closely associated with the Kenton sound. Read more…

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11 September 1942 – April 1944

Anita O'Day

Fresh off of a star outing as Gene Krupa’s vocalist, Anita O’Day joined the Kenton band and the hits continued. Read more…

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28 April 1944 – 11 Feb 1945

June Christy

When virtually any Kenton fan thinks of the maestro's vocalist, June Christy pops to the forefront. Sure there were others. But none meshed with the Kenton sound so perfectly as did the Misty Miss Christy. Read more…

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22 March 1945 – 2 June 1950

Jerri Winters

With Kenton backing down from the grandeur of the Innovations Orchestra and settling into one of his most swinging bands, it was time to tap a new vocalist, and Jerri Winters won the spot. Read more…

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15 February – 15 June 1952

Kay Brown

Movie actress Kay Brown spent half a year singing in front of the band that included hubby, Maynard Ferguson. Read more…

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15 July 1952 – 5 January 1953

Chris Connor

With recording credits that included Claude Thornhill and Jerry Wald, Connor joined the band as they were reaching large radio audiences on the NBC Concerts in Miniature series. Read more…

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February – June 1953

Ann Richards

The teenage future Mrs. Kenton joined the band during what many consider to be the most jazz-like and swingiest band Kenton led. Read more…

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1955 +

Jean Turner

Jean Turner appeared, made a splash, and then vanished. She left behind a stellar album with Kenton. Read more…

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3 April 1962 – 30 November 1963

Some others along the way

Jean La Salle
Helen Carr
Jan Tober
Cindy Bradley
Read more…

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1952 / 1958 / 1968?

The Men

Red Dorris

A true star of the early Stan Kenton band, Red Dorris could sing the blues and wail on the tenor sax. Read more…

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July 1941 – 2 April 1944
13 August 1946 – 15 January 1947

Gene Howard

Known mostly for syrupy ballads, Gene Howard added a contrast to the swinging Anita O’Day. Read more…

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April 1944 – 11 October 1946

Jay Johnson

The last male vocalist with the Stan Kenton band, Jay Johnson’s contributions are often overshadowed by the Innovations Orchestra that was going on simultaneously. Read more…

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August 1950 – August 1951

The Groups

The Pastels

The Pastels added a new dimension to the instrumental sound: a group vocal, with jazz arrangements by Dave Lambert and Pete Rugolo. Read more…

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January – April 1947

The Four Freshmen

It’s a long told story of how Kenton first heard of this foursome that sounded so much like his own 20 piece band. They collaborated again and again over a two decade span. Read more…

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1953; 1959, 1972

The Modern Men

In the late fifties, Kenton thought it was time to try his hand at another vocal group. Although he wrote specifically for them, and featured them in performance and recordings, they never caught on with the public. Read more…

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January – March 1957

The Band

In quite a few arrangements, the entire band was asked to provide their vocal skills to the instrumental textures. Read more…

1944-1973

Other singers

The Boys in the Band

Ray Wetzel
Frank Rosolino
Kent Larsen
Ernie Bernhardt 
And others. Read more…

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1945–1976

Special Guest Artists

Nat King Cole
Tex Ritter
Sue Raney
Read more…

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