Harry Babbitt

Photo of Harry Babbitt
  • Born

    November 2, 1913
    St. Louis, Missouri
  • Died

    April 9, 2004 (age 90)
    Newport Beach, California
  • Orchestras

    Kay Kyser

Popular vo­cal­ist Harry Babbitt’s smooth bari­tone voice is most as­so­ci­ated with the Kay Kyser Orchestra. Born in St. Louis, Babbitt stud­ied singing and played drums as a youth. He led his own band in the mid-1930s but gave it up to do em­cee work in the­aters and night­clubs in his home­town and in Texas. In 1935, he took a job as an­nouncer and singer on ra­dio sta­tion KWK in St. Louis.

Babbitt sent an au­di­tion record of him­self to Kyser in 1937 and was hired sight un­seen. He ap­peared on the band’s pop­u­lar College of Musical Knowledge ra­dio se­ries and was fea­tured on sev­eral of their hit records, some­times paired with fe­male vo­cal­ist Ginny Simms. He also ap­peared with the or­ches­tra in sev­eral films and led the band when­ever Kyser was ab­sent.

Babbitt joined the Navy in 1944, re­turn­ing to Kyser af­ter the war ended. He re­mained with the Ol’ Professor un­til go­ing solo in 1946. He was an ex­tremely pop­u­lar vo­cal­ist, plac­ing fourth in Billboard mag­a­zine’s 1941, 1942 and 1943 col­lege polls as best male band vo­cal­ist. He placed sec­ond best male vo­cal­ist in their 1945 high school poll, be­hind Bing Crosby and ahead of Frank Sinatra. He be­came fa­mous for voic­ing the laugh of Woody Woodpecker on Kyser’s 1944 song of the same name, much to his cha­grin. He of­ten used a falsetto voice on nov­elty tunes, though he typ­i­cally sang bal­lads.

As a sin­gle, Babbitt played mostly small clubs. He made sev­eral record­ings over the next few years, his first on Columbia, Kyser’s la­bel. In 1946 and 1947, he re­leased a num­ber of sides for Mercury, backed by Richard Maltby and Jimmy Hilliard, which in­cluded duets with Connie Haines. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he moved to Coral Records, singing both solo and work­ing with Martha Tilton, the Allen Sisters, and the Heart Beats. During the early days of tele­vi­sion, he ap­peared with both Steve Allen and as part of Bandstand Review. He also did em­cee work for NBCs daily Glamour Girl pro­gram.

Babbitt left show busi­ness in 1964 to sell real es­tate. When Kyser died in 1985, he ob­tained rights to the band’s name and cat­a­log from the or­ches­tra lead­er’s widow, Georgia Carroll, and formed a new band un­der Kyser’s name, tour­ing un­til the mid-1990s. In 1997, he ap­peared at the University of New Mexico’s Battle of the Big Bands II,” where he com­peted with Frank DeVol, Rex Allen and Irv Kluger lead­ing the Big Band Alumni Orchestra. Harry Babbitt passed away in 2004.

Music

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  • Three Little Fishes
    Kay Kyser (Ish Kabbible, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, Ginny Simms), Brunswick (1939)
  • Hello, Mr. Kringle
    Kay Kyser (Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, Ish Kabbible), Columbia (1939)
  • Friendship
    Kay Kyser (Ish Kabbible, Ginny Simms, Jack Martin, Harry Babbitt), Columbia (1940)
  • You've Got Me This Way
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt), Columbia (1940)
  • Chatterbox
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms), Columbia (1940)
  • Who's Yehoodi?
    Kay Kyser (Sully Mason, Harry Babbitt), Columbia (1940)
  • Why Don't We Do This More Often
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms), Columbia (1941)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Films

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  • Screenshot
    "I've Got a One Track Mind"
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms)
    from the film You’ll Find Out, RKO (1940)
  • Screenshot
    "Like the Fella Once Said"
    Kay Kyser (Harry Babbitt, Ginny Simms)
    from the film You’ll Find Out, RKO (1940)

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Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Radio

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  • College of Musical Knowledge (Partial Program)
    1942 (NBC) 17:42

Sources

  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. Walker, Leo. The Wonderful Era of the Great Dance Bands. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.
  3. The Online Discographical Project. Accessed 29 Jul. 2015.
  4. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  5. “Kyser's Right Hand Man.” The Milwaukee Journal 6 Dec. 1942: 14.
  6. “Students Select Singers.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  7. “Hi-Schoolers Say James Best.” Billboard 3 Jun. 1944: 20.
  8. “Adams Coast Haul from Mercury.” Billboard 13 Apr. 1946: 38.
  9. “Fate Gave Harry Babbitt Old Ho-Ho-Ho-Ha-Ha.” The Milwaukee Journal 19 Aug. 1948: Green Sheet, 1.
  10. “Emcee Job Suits Harry Babbitt Better Than One Night Stands.” Wilmington Sunday Star 12 Jul. 1953: n. pag.
  11. “Obituaries: Harry Babbitt.” Sun Journal [Lewiston. ME] 24 Apr. 2004: A5.