Paula Kelly

Photo of Paula Kelly

Big band singer Paula Kelly be­gan her pro­fes­sional ca­reer as part of the Kelly Sisters trio, singing on Pittsburgh ra­dio sta­tion KDKA. They later worked with the Hal Thomas or­ches­tra and toured for fif­teen months with Major Bowes be­fore dis­band­ing. Kelly joined Dick Stabile’s or­ches­tra as a soloist on her six­teenth birth­day in 1935, stay­ing with the sax­o­phon­ist un­til February 1938, when she left to join Al Donahue the fol­low­ing month. In 1939, she met and mar­ried singer Hal Dickinson, of the Modernaires vo­cal group. They cou­ple re­mained to­gether un­til his death in 1970.

In early 1941, Kelly joined Glenn Miller, where she was brought in to re­place Dorothy Claire. Claire her­self had re­placed Marion Hutton, who was on leave of ab­sence, but had­n’t work out. Kelly ap­peared with the or­ches­tra in their 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade and of­ten sang ac­com­pa­ni­ment with her hus­band’s vo­cal group. Hutton re­turned and re­placed Kelly in August of that year.

Kelly was a fairly pop­u­lar vo­cal­ist, fin­ish­ing as tenth fa­vorite fe­male band vo­cal­ist in Billboard mag­a­zine’s 1941 col­lege poll and twelfth in 1942. After leav­ing Miller, she sang with Artie Shaws band un­til early 1942 and then joined Bob Allen in March 1943, re­plac­ing Lynn Gardner. Touring Army bases with Allen, Kelly once gave a solo show in an Army prison, ac­com­pa­nied by an in­mate who pre­vi­ously had been a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian she had known while with Shaw’s band.

In August 1943, Kelly subbed for an ail­ing Helen Ward dur­ing Hal McIntyres tour of the Canadian mar­itime provinces but soon re­joined with the Modernaires that same month af­ter Hutton left their com­bined Glenn Miller Singers act to go solo.[1] Kelly be­came an ad­junct mem­ber of the group, which toured and recorded un­der the name Modernaires with Paula Kelly. She also con­tin­ued to sing and record in­de­pen­dently from the Modernaires.

From 1951 to 1955, Kelly ap­peared with the Modernaires on Bob Crosbys pop­u­lar CBS day­time tele­vi­sion pro­gram. She stayed in as­so­ci­a­tion with the vo­cal group un­til her re­tire­ment in 1978, re­placed by her daugh­ter, Paula Kelly Jr.

Paula Kelly passed away in 1992, age 72, af­ter a long ill­ness.


  1. Later sources of­ten give Kelly’s start date with the Modernaires as 1942. Sources at the time, how­ever, clearly show oth­er­wise.


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  • Jeepers Creepers
    Al Donahue (Paula Kelly), Vocalion (1938)
  • Lost and Found
    Dick Stabile (Paula Kelly), Bluebird (1938)
  • My Heart Is Taking Lessons
    Dick Stabile (Paula Kelly), Bluebird (1938)
  • I Know Why
    Glenn Miller (Paula Kelly), Bluebird (1941)
  • Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat
    Artie Shaw (Paula Kelly), Victor (1941)
  • Connecticut
    Modernaires with Paula Kelly, Columbia (1946)
  • Sunshine Cake
    Frank Sinatra and Paula Kelly, Columbia (1950)

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  • Screenshot
    "Chattanooga Choo Choo"
    Glenn Miller (Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, Modernaires)
    from Sun Valley Serenade, 20th Century Fox (1941)
  • Screenshot
    Bob Crosby Show - 2 May 1955
    Bob Crosby, Modernaires, Paula Kelly, Joanie O'Brien, Carol Richards, Johnny Mercer
    CBS (1955)

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  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. “Paula and Dick Part.” The Pittsburgh Press 19 Mar. 1938: 6.
  4. King, John Paul. “The Radio Mail Box.” The Milwaukee Journal 24 Aug. 1941: 11.
  5. “On the Records.” Billboard 24 Jan. 1942: 61.
  6. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  7. “Bob Allen Signed for Penn, Capitol.” Billboard 20 Mar. 1943: 26.
  8. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 7 Aug. 1943: 15.
  9. “Hal McIntyre, First. U.S. Ork to Hit Maritime Provinces in Four Years, Scores Big Success.” Billboard 14 Aug. 1943: 16.
  10. Steinhauser, Si. “Opens Mouth Silently, Draws Breath and Pay.” The Pittsburgh Press 19 Aug. 1943: 31.
  11. Kilgallen, Dorothy. “The Voice of Broadway.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12 Feb. 1944: 10.
  12. “Versatile Modernaires Have Varied Musical Backgrounds.” Wilmington Sunday Star 20 Sep. 1953: 12.
  13. Wolf, William. “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” The Pittsburgh Press 14 May 1967: n. pag.