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

Vocalist Harry Babbitt’s smooth baritone voice could be heard as part of Kay Kyser’s orchestra for more than seven years in the late 1930s and early 1940s. After spending time in the navy during World War II, Babbitt began a successful solo career that included both singing and emcee work. He appeared regularly on television and radio during the 1950s.

Born in St. Louis, Babbitt studied singing and drums as a youth. He led his own band in the early-1930s but gave it up to sing and do emcee work in theaters and nightclubs in his hometown and in Texas. In 1935, he took a job as announcer and vocalist on St. Louis radio station KWK. Babbitt sent an audition record of himself to Kyser in early 1937 and was hired sight unseen, making his debut on the band’s popular College of Musical Knowledge radio series in February. Over the next seven years, he was featured on several hit records, sometimes paired with female vocalist Ginny Simms or as part of a group number. He also appeared with the orchestra in several films and led the band whenever Kyser was absent.

Babbitt proved an extremely popular vocalist, placing fourth in Billboard magazine’s 1941, 1942 and 1943 college polls as best male band vocalist. High school students voted him second best male vocalist in a 1945 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.

Solo Career

Babbitt received his draft notice in early 1944 and reported to the navy in May after finishing film work with Kyser. Upon his discharge in early 1946, he returned to singing, inking a contract with the Mercury label and appearing on both NBC and Mutual radio programs. 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 January 1947, Babbitt rejoined Kyser, though he also continued working solo as well, obtaining special permission from Mercury to record on Columbia with Kyser’s band.[1] Mercury dropped Babbitt completely in May, and that same month he signed with Decca’s newly-revived Vocalion imprint.[2] In December, he moved to Decca’s new Coral label, where he sang both solo and with other artists, including Martha Tilton, the Allen Sisters, and the Heart Beats. In 1949, he also recorded on Columbia as part of their line of children’s records, which he continued to do into the mid-1950s.

In early 1949, CBS radio considered teaming Babbitt with former bandmate Simms, going so far as to put together an audition record, but they never followed through on the project. Babbitt became a regular on Kyser’s NBC radio program in October 1949. He starred in his own five-day-a-week CBS radio program starting in late 1949 which ran through at least 1958.

Babbitt also appeared on several early television shows. In late 1948, he joined singer Trudy Erwin on an evening television program on Los Angeles station KTTV. In the early 1950s, he served as emcee of the television programs Bandstand Review and Hollywood Opportunity over Los Angeles station KTLA. The former program featured Frank DeVol’s orchestra and, starting in fall 1951, that of Les Brown. He also did emcee work for NBC’s daily Glamour Girl program. In an interview, Babbitt said he preferred emcee work to endless one-night stands in clubs and theaters. He continued on television through at least the mid-1950s. In 1955, he also became head of the Lucky Pop Beverage Company, which made soft drink tablets. In 1957, Babbitt was singing emcee for the CBS radio program Matinee, with Marion Morgan as the show’s female vocalist. He and Morgan teamed up again in 1963 for the short-lived game show Sing Ahead produced by Los Angeles television station KTLA.

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.


  1. Kyser by that point was mostly using studio orchestras and only occasionally performing live for servicemen. He had begun to lose interest in the music business during the late 1940s. ↩︎

  2. The relaunched Vocalion imprint was a budget label, selling discs for 49 cents. ↩︎


  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. Advertisement. “The Grove.” The Houston Cougar 21 Dec. 1934: 3.
  5. Owen, Kent. “Along Radio Lane.” The Racine Journal-Times [Racine, Wisconsin] 17 Feb. 1937: 15.
  6. “Program Reviews: Musical Klass.” Billboard 12 Feb. 1938: 9.
  7. “Collegiate Choice of Male Vocalists.” Billboard 3 May 1941: 11.
  8. “Campus Picks Top Chirps.” Billboard 2 May 1942: 19.
  9. “Kyser's Right Hand Man.” The Milwaukee Journal 6 Dec. 1942: 14.
  10. “Students Select Singers.” Billboard 5 Jun. 1943: 20.
  11. “Hi-Schoolers Say James Best.” Billboard 3 Jun. 1944: 20.
  12. “Babbitt Hits Deck.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1944: 13.
  13. Ehrlich, Evelyn. “Here's News Capsule Of Music World For 1944.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1945: 3.
  14. “Harry Babbitt Re-Bows.” Billboard 13 Apr. 1946: 19.
  15. “Adams's Coast Haul for Mercury.” Billboard 13 Apr. 1946: 38.
  16. “Babbitt Gets Share of Gravy.” Down Beat 12 Aug. 1946: 14.
  17. “Vaudeville Reviews: Loew's State, New York.” Billboard 23 Nov. 1946: 40.
  18. “Music As Written.” Billboard 8 Feb. 1947: 34.
  19. “Babbitt To Record on Kyser's Columbia.” Down Beat 12 Mar. 1947: 4.
  20. “Mercury Drops Name Artists.” Billboard 31 May 1947: 18.
  21. “Capitol Zooms to 114G.” Billboard 2 Aug. 1947: 41.
  22. “Babbitt Returns.” Down Beat 10 Sep. 1947: 17.
  23. “In Short.” Billboard 8 Nov. 1947: 37.
  24. “Vaudeville Reviews: Chicago, Chicago.” Billboard 24 Jul. 1948: 37.
  25. “Fate Gave Harry Babbitt Old Ho-Ho-Ho-Ha-Ha.” The Milwaukee Journal 19 Aug. 1948: Green Sheet, 1.
  26. Holly, Hal. “Hollywood Tele-scope.” Down Beat 28 Jan. 1949: 8.
  27. “Columbia Pitch For Kid Biz Via Gimmick Album.” Billboard 5 Mar. 1949: 18.
  28. “Vocalion Inks Harry Babbitt.” Billboard 28 May 1949: 17.
  29. “Columbia Plans Kidisk Revamp For Fall Push.” Billboard 18 Jun. 1949: 18.
  30. “Decca Releases First New Vocalion Sides.” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1949: 2.
  31. “Babbitt, La Tilton Inked for Coral.” Billboard 31 Dec. 1949: 12.
  32. “Coral Signs Sears, Tilton, And Babbitt.” Down Beat 10 Feb. 1950: 16.
  33. “CBS Eyes Sims [sic], Babbitt Musical.” Billboard 2 Apr. 1949: 5.
  34. “CBS Eyes Sims [sic], Babbitt Musical.” Billboard 2 Apr. 1949: 5.
  35. “'Hoppy' Exits KTLA.” Billboard 24 Mar. 1951: 10.
  36. “Television-Radio Reviews: Hollywood Opportunity.” Billboard 21 Jul. 1951: 10.
  37. “Les Brown Ork Get Own TVer.” Down Beat 5 Oct. 1951: 4.
  38. “Emcee Job Suits Harry Babbitt Better Than One Night Stands.” Wilmington Sunday Star 12 Jul. 1953: n. pag.
  39. “Music As Written.” Billboard 25 Dec. 1954: 20.
  40. “Music As Written.” Billboard 26 Mar. 1954: 21.
  41. “Reviews and Ratings of New Popular Albums.” Billboard 24 Jul. 1954: 33.
  42. “Music As Written.” Billboard 30 Jun. 1956: 18.
  43. “Sunday on Radio.” Billboard 11 Aug. 1957: TV Week 11.
  44. Advertisement. “Premier Artists and Productions Agency.” Billboard 20 Jan. 1958: 27.
  45. Bernstein, Bob. “Wheeling and Dealing.” Billboard 25 Aug. 1958: 12.
  46. “Friday.” The Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram 14 Apr. 1963: Tele-Vues 13.
  47. “Obituaries: Harry Babbitt.” Sun Journal [Lewiston. ME] 24 Apr. 2004: A5.