[Dixielandjazz] Harry Babbit Obit

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Apr 26 10:59:30 PDT 2004

You may not recognize the name, but you will will recognize his work.

Steve Barbone

April 26, 2004 - NY Times

Harry Babbitt, 90, Big Band Era Singer, Is Dead


       Harry Babbitt, a featured singer of the big band era who
performed with Kay Kyser's band in the late 1930's and 40's, died April
9 at a nursing home in Aliso Viejo, Calif. He was 90.

His death was announced by his son Christopher.

The Kyser band featured serious swing arrangements but also comedic
touches, and it gained a wide following with the radio and television
quiz program "Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge."

Mr. Babbitt was the band's lead male vocalist during much of its heyday,
complemented by the singing of Ginny Simms and the clowning of the
trumpet player Merwyn Bogue, known as Ish Kabibble.

He was best known for "The White Cliffs of Dover," "Jingle, Jangle,
Jingle," "Who Wouldn't Love You?" and "On a Slow Boat to China." He
affected a high-pitched voice for the novelty song "Three Little
Fishies" and supplied the laugh for the Kyser band's "Woody Woodpecker."
He also appeared in 1940's movies with the Kyser band.

Mr. Babbitt, a native of St. Louis, was a nightclub and radio performer
there before joining Kyser.

During World War II, he performed at the band's appearances for
servicemen in the Hollywood Canteen.

"Bette Davis used to come in and wait on the tables; all those big names
did even the smallest tasks to keep the boys happy," Mr. Babbitt told
The Los Angeles Times in 1986. Kyser, he remembered, was so enthusiastic
that "he even wore G.I. fatigue boots when we played."

Mr. Babbitt served in the Navy in 1944 and 1945, then rejoined Kyser and
also appeared as the host of radio and television programs. After
Kyser's death in 1985, he toured occasionally with a reconstituted Kyser

He is survived by his wife, Betty; his sons Christopher, of Laguna
Niguel, Calif., Michael, of Lake Forest, Calif., and Stephen, of
Montesano, Wash.; a brother, Bob, of California; six grandchildren; and
two great-grandchildren.

In 1984, Mr. Babbitt appeared at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan for a
retrospective of big band singers.

"His voice is a little darker, a little huskier than it was 40 years
ago, but he still accents such songs as `Who Wouldn't Love You?' and
`Slow Boat to China' with the twinkling rhythmic inflections that made
them favorites during his days with Mr. Kyser's band," John S. Wilson
wrote in The New York Times.

Mr. Babbitt spoke of a surge of interest in big band music among young
people in the 1980's.

"The kids are finding out that dancing cheek to cheek is just about the
best way to do it," he told The Los Angeles Times. "Most of our music
asks you to dance that way — it's romantic all the way."

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