Sunday, 11 August 2013
Christine Kittrell born 11 August 1929
Christine Kittrell (August 11, 1929 – December 19, 2001) was an American R&B singer who made a number of attractive and moderately successful records for local labels during the 50s.
Kittrell was born into a musical family in Nashville, and decided that singing would be her life's work after singing in church, and listening to records by Vela Johnson, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday and Bessie Smith. Ann Bishop, a friend, remembers when she first heard her sing: "When I met her she was singing at Tony Morone's Cadillac Club on North 20th Street. She had stage presence, personality and an unforgettable voice."
During the 1940s and early 50s, Kittrell toured extensively, and recorded for Tennessee, Republic, Federal, King and Vee-Jay Records over her career. During the summer of 1952, a little independent label based in Nashville called Tennessee Records released a blues recording called Sittin' Here Drinkin' /I Ain't Nothing But A Fool (Tennessee 128). In 1952, Little Richard played piano on one of her songs, Lord Have Mercy. In 1953, Christine moved to Republic Records, also in Nashville, and recorded with the Gay Crosse Band, who had in their number a young tenor player called John Coletrane. Christine was starting to rack up sales of over 20,000 per single.
In 1954, she toured regularly. DJ Gene Norman organised a show
with The Robins, Christine Kittrell, Earl Bostic, and The Flairs at the Embassy Ballroom in LA, and to tour California in March. Other West Coast tours would follow, with "Fats" Domino, Earl Bostic, Paul Williams, John Coltrane and more. She did other shows with Johnny Otis, The Lamplighters, Ruth Brown and Count Basie. Success as a national r&b artist seemed imminent.
At this point in 1954, Christine decided to return to gospel music. She moved to Columbus Ohio in 1962, to make a new home. Around this time, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller sought her out and wrote the song I'm a Woman for her, which she recorded on Vee-Jay along with some other, but none of them sold well, and she returned to her gospel once more.
In the early 60s, she toured Japan performing with Louis Armstrong and Paul Williams. Then, in the mid 1960s, promoter David Moore, who knew her from her r&b shows on the West Coast, booked her on a Southeast Asian tour where she sang for the troops in Vietnam. She stayed on tour in Vietnam for 8 1/2 months, intending to stay longer. The tour was terminated, almost literally, when Christine was wounded by shrapnel in a Viet-Cong incident. While she was singing on a platform under a tent, a bombing raid put shrapnel in her left hip. She was flown to Columbus, where she was hospitalized for more than a year.
Subsequently, she semi-retired to her Ohio home.
While working as an Ohio corrections officer in the early '70s, she fell down a fire escape and broke her back. She ended up on permanent disability, but she still managed to play the occasional local blues festivals and small clubs in the 1990s.
In 1986 a fan of Kittrells' called Bruce Bastian, suggested recording
an album, titled Krazy Kat, returning to the blues. Continuing to perform with local Columbus blues group The Night Owlz, she became a mentor for Ohio artist Teeny Tucker (daughter of Tommy 'High Heel Sneakers' Tucker), and sang on Tucker's album First Class Woman.
Kittrell spent her remaining few years working with a beautification group, the Linden Community in Action, and was inducted into the Columbus Senior Musicians Hall of Fame in 1998. Christine Kittrell died on 19th December 2001 from emphysema, aged 72.
(Info edited from various sources mainly from an article by Ann Bishop, the Night Train To Nashville exhibition, Bad Dog Blues, and an article by J C Marion)