Thursday, August 27, 2009

Goodbye, Kitty

Singer Kitty White Lee Remembered by Children

by Terria Smith
Palm Springs Desert Sun, August 26, 2009

Jazz fans may remember Kitty White Lee for her recordings or for the song "Crawfish," which she sang as a duet with Elvis Presley in the 1958 film "King Creole."

Loret Stagg, however, will remember what it was like to grow up with her as a mother.

"When I was a little girl she used to have a little gold necklace," Stagg recalled. "And I remember now it used to be an angel. I would ask her ‘Who is that girl on your necklace?' and she would say ‘That's you.'"

Professionally known as Kitty White, the performer died of complications from a stroke on Aug. 11 at Palm Springs Health Care and Rehabilitation Center. She was 86 years old.

During White's career she recorded songs for Capitol, Emarcy and Mercury records.

She performed and recorded with jazz artists Laurindo Almeida, Red Callendar, Buddy Collette and Ben Webster.

And her music was featured on the soundtracks of 1950s films including "Kiss Me Deadly" and "Night of the Hunter," in addition to the Presley film.

"Mother said he (Presley) was a really nice young man," said Bonnie White-Mitchell, White's eldest child.

In 1967 White moved to Palm Springs with her family.

She considered the desert to be her home and a "quiet, almost spiritual place to her," Stagg said.

White performed at the Spa Hotel for 16 years.

Stagg, White's youngest daughter, remembers going to watch her mother perform "at least a couple of times a year."

White-Mitchell remembers the atmosphere her mother created during her performances.

"I remember when mother sang, life entered the room," White-Mitchell said.

Stagg said her mother's performing ability was something she appreciated when she became an adult.

"When you have a parent who performs sometimes you don't realize just how talented they are," she said.

White was primarily a romantic ballad and jazz singer who had a voice that seemed to lift people's spirits, White-Mitchell said.

"She had a true love of music and a genuine love of people," Stagg said.

But White's biggest love was right in her home.

She was there when her children came home from school and cooked dinner for them, Stagg said.

"My mom always loved to perform but it was a means to an end," she said. "She wasn't interested in becoming famous. She loved to perform but she loved her family more."

Services for White took place Aug. 18 at the Palm Springs Seventh Day Adventist Church. She was preceded in death by her ex-husband Edward White and second husband, Richard Henry Lee.

She is survived by five children, all of whom live in Southern California: Bonnie White-Mitchell, Edward White Jr., Lisa White, Loret Stagg and Richard Lee; 11 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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