Singer Carol Kay weaved her way in and out of multiple orchestras during the 1940s. A competent vocalist who always seemed to impress reviewers, Kay never managed to find big success, and by 1950 she had faded away. Magazines and newspapers often misspelled her name as “Carol Kaye.”
Born in 1919 on New York’s Lower East Side, Kay began her career as a tap and ballet dancer. In a 1940 bio, she claimed to have been discovered by infamous Prohibition-era night club entrepreneur Texas Guinan. Guinan died in 1933, so if true Kay would have been no older than 14 at the time, if she was also being truthful about her age.
In the late 1930s, Kay worked in vaudeville and sang with bands, including those of Phil Napoleon and Marty Ross, with whom she was with in September 1939 at Niles, Michigan, for the winter season. By December 1939, though, she had returned to New York, where she joined Woody Herman. She appeared with Herman on the cover on Down Beat magazine’s April 1, 1940, issue.
On February 1, 1940, Kay married Tony Pastor trumpet player Bill Robbins and soon decided to retire from show business, leaving Herman in April. By July, however, she had joined Russ Morgan, remaining through at least November.
In September 1941, Kay became part of Sonny Dunham’s orchestra. The following month, she was seriously injured in a car wreck while traveling between one-nighters. Five of the band’s musicians were also in the same vehicle. That accident, one of a spate of similar crashes around that time, prompted many bandleaders to forbid their musicians and vocalists from traveling by private auto. Musicians played late into the night and were often too tired to drive safely when they got into their cars and headed to the next location.
Whether Kay stayed with Dunham after the accident or whether she left the band to recover is unknown, as she isn’t mentioned again in the press until 1943. If she stayed with Dunham, she would have remained no later than February 1942, when Dunham hired Harriet Clark.
In early 1943, Kay sang with George Sterney’s band in New York, and in summer of that year, she sang with Howard McCreery in Biloxi, Mississippi, at a Gulf Coast resort, though she seems not to have been billed as part of McCreery’s band, which had a regular female vocalist, and was instead billed as a featured vocalist. She didn’t stay long on the Gulf Coast, however, as Benny Goodman hired her in early August. Goodman had gone through a string of vocalists that he’d quickly dispatched before settling on Kay. She stayed with the King of Swing until January 1944, when she left the band in Pittsburgh as it headed for the West Coast, returning to New York.
In March 1944, Kay subbed for an ill Liz Tilton in Jan Garber’s orchestra. By April, she’d joined Lee Castle’s band, though it’s unknown how long she stayed. In August, she became part of Herbie Field’s orchestra, remaining only briefly. By August 1945, Kay had joined Buddy Clarke’s band, which was set to debut in September. She was gone by October. By December, she was with Richard Himber, where she seems to have remained until mid-1947 when reports had her traveling to Hollywood with “large deals in view.” By the end of the year, however, she was back with Fields, where she stayed through at least the first few weeks of 1948. Beyond that, she disappears into the mists of time.
Kay should not be confused with the young singer of the same name in the 1950s.