Obit of the Day: Duke Ellington’s Soprano
When Kathryn McDonald’s friend heard that jazz legend Duke Ellington was visiting Chicago, she encouraged Kathryn to audition. Ms. McDonald agreed but doubted that Ellington wanted a soprano. Luckily for her, she was wrong. McDonald, who performed as Kay Davis, became one of the Duke’s three great female soloists alongside Joya Sherrill and Maria Ellington*.
Kay Davis sang with Duke Ellington’s orchestra from 1944 to 1950 and left following Ellington’s tour of Europe. Her voice is heard on several Ellington hits including “Transblucency” (above), “On a Turquoise Cloud,” and “Violet Blue.” Davis’ voice is often heard singing without words - another instrument in Ellington’s orchestra.
Prior to joining Ellington, Davis received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Northwestern University, where as a black student she could attend classes but not live in the dorms. After retiring from singing she lived with her husband in Chicago and then Florida. She trained at Cordon Bleu becoming an incomparable home chef.
She was 92.
(Duke Ellington: The Complete RCA Victor Mid-Forties Recordings is copyright of BMG Entertainment, 2000)