Paula Kelly

Photo of Paula Kelly

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, forming part of the same unit as Frank Sinatra. After the sister act disbanded, 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. On January 5, 1939, Kelly married singer Hal Dickinson, of the Modernaires vocal group, then with Paul Whiteman’s band, though the married wasn’t announced until April. They couple remained together until his death in 1970.

Kelly remained with Donahue until May 1940, when she left to give birth to her first child, a girl. On April 2, 1941, she joined Glenn Miller, where she was brought in to replace Dorothy Claire. Claire herself had replaced Marion Hutton in January but had been let go after her former boss, Bobby Byrne, filed suit against Miller for inducing her to break her contract with him. Kelly appeared with the orchestra in their 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade and often sang accompaniment with her husband’s vocal group. Hutton, who had been on leave to become a mother, returned to the band and replaced Kelly in August of that year.

Kelly was a popular vocalist, finishing as tenth favorite female band vocalist in Billboard magazine’s 1941 college poll and twelfth in 1942. After leaving Miller, she joined Artie Shaw in October 1941 for a three-month period, expiring on January 1, 1942. Kelly then fell silent, prompting Down Beat magazine to feature her name in their “Where Is?” column in May. Kelly reappeared in January 1943, subbing for an ill Dorothy Claire in Sonny Dunham’s band. In March she joined Bob Allen, 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 June 1943, Kelly had departed Allen. In August, she subbed for an ailing Helen Ward during Hal McIntyre’s tour of the Canadian maritime provinces. She then joined with the Modernaires also that same month after Marion Hutton left their combined Glenn Miller Singers act to go solo. Kelly became an adjunct member of the group, which toured and recorded under the name Modernaires with Paula Kelly. She also occasionally sang and record independently from the Modernaires.

Kelly left the Modernaires twice to have children, once in 1944 and again in 1947. Both were girls, giving her and Dickinson three daughters. During her absence in 1947, singer Virginia Maxey took her place in the act.[1]

From 1953 to 1956, Kelly appeared with the Modernaires on Bob Crosby’s 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. Maxey had also replaced her when she left Bob Allen’s band. ↩︎


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  • Lost in the Shuffle
    Dick Stabile (Paula Kelly), Bluebird (1938)
  • Lost and Found
    Dick Stabile (Paula Kelly), Bluebird (1938)
  • My Heart Is Taking Lessons
    Dick Stabile (Paula Kelly), Bluebird (1938)
  • Jeepers Creepers
    Al Donahue (Paula Kelly), Vocalion (1938)
  • Tattooed Lady
    Al Donahue (Paula Kelly), Vocalion (1938)
  • In the Mood
    Al Donahue (Paula Kelly), Vocalion (1939)
  • White Sails (Beneath a Yellow Moon)
    Al Donahue (Paula Kelly), Vocalion (1939)
  • I Know Why
    Glenn Miller (Paula Kelly and the Four Modernaires), Bluebird (1941)
  • Sweeter Than the Sweetest
    Glenn Miller (Paula Kelly and the Four Modernaires), Bluebird (1941)
  • It Happened in Sun Valley
    Glenn Miller (Paula Kelly, Ray Eberle, Tex Beneke, Modernaires), Bluebird (1941)
  • The Kiss Polka
    Glenn Miller (Paula Kelly, Ernie Caceres, Modernaires), Bluebird (1941)
  • I Don't Want to Walk Without You
    Artie Shaw (Paula Kelly), Victor (1941)
  • Make Love to Me
    Artie Shaw (Paula Kelly), Victor (1941)
  • Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat
    Artie Shaw (Paula Kelly), Victor (1941)
  • Coffee Five, Doughnuts Five (Coffee and Doughnuts Ten)
    Modernaires with Paula Kelly, Columbia (1945)
  • Holiday for Strings
    Modernaires with Paula Kelly, Columbia (1945)
  • Salute to Glenn Miller
    Modernaires with Paula Kelly, Columbia (1946)
  • Connecticut
    Modernaires with Paula Kelly, Columbia (1946)
  • I Want to Be Loved (But Only By You)
    Modernaires with Paula Kelly, Columbia (1947)
  • 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. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat May 1939: 10.
  5. “Al Donahue Examines Al Donahue.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1940: 9.
  6. “Late Flashes.” Down Beat 1 May 1940: 2.
  7. “New Numbers.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1940: 10.
  8. “Paula Kelly In, Claire Out of G. Miller Band.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1941: 1.
  9. “Plenty of Bowes Tyros Hit the Gong Instead of Getting It.” Billboard 23 Aug. 1941: 4.
  10. King, John Paul. “The Radio Mail Box.” The Milwaukee Journal 24 Aug. 1941: 11.
  11. “Kelly Set for 3 Months as Shaw Singer.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1941: 1.
  12. “Shaw's Men on Sports Riff With 3 Ball Teams Active.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1941: 11.
  13. “On the Records.” Billboard 24 Jan. 1942: 61.
  14. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  15. “Where Is?” Down Beat 15 May 1942: 10.
  16. “Dunham Vocals Still Unsettled.” Down Beat 15 Feb. 1943: 5.
  17. “Bob Allen Signed for Penn, Capitol.” Billboard 20 Mar. 1943: 26.
  18. “Paula Kelly New Bob Allen Chirp.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1943: 2.
  19. “Virginia Maxey Joins Bob Allen.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1943: 1.
  20. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 7 Aug. 1943: 15.
  21. “Hal McIntyre, First. U.S. Ork to Hit Maritime Provinces in Four Years, Scores Big Success.” Billboard 14 Aug. 1943: 16.
  22. “Paula Kelly to Modernaires.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1943: 1.
  23. Steinhauser, Si. “Opens Mouth Silently, Draws Breath and Pay.” The Pittsburgh Press 19 Aug. 1943: 31.
  24. Kilgallen, Dorothy. “The Voice of Broadway.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12 Feb. 1944: 10.
  25. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 1 Apr. 1944: 5.
  26. “New Numbers.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1944: 10.
  27. Roman, Eddie. “On the Sunset Vine.” Down Beat 8 Oct. 1947: 8.
  28. “Paula Kelly Back.” Down Beat 22 Oct. 1947: 11.
  29. “Versatile Modernaires Have Varied Musical Backgrounds.” Wilmington Sunday Star 20 Sep. 1953: 12.
  30. Wolf, William. “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” The Pittsburgh Press 14 May 1967: n. pag.