Much More than a “So-and-So”
Anita Kerr holds a special place in the world of pop and country recording (and more). Anita and her Singers hold a spot in the recording studios of the U.S. along side the Funk Brothers, The “A” Team, The “Wrecking Crew”, the Memphis Group and others.
Born Anita Jean Grilli in 1927 in Memphis, Tennessee, Anita began her long and impressive career on a Nashville radio station with three other vocalists. In short order she would head up an octet of singers on the program, and would find themselves backing Decca country artist Red Foley.
The group would be officially signed to a Decca Records contract as studio back-up musicians starting in 1955. In 1956 the group was paired down to four members at the suggestion from program host Arthur Godfrey after winning his national talent show.
The group continued on back in Nashville backing big name country stars such as Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, Jim Reeves, Chet Atkins and others. In January of 1960 the group release the song “Forever” under the name of “The Little Dippers”. The tracked soared to number nine on the Hot 100. They released 4 more singles on Universal Records but “Forever” would be their only hit record under that name.
Next, in 1961, the grouip signed an RCA Victor recording contract of their own. In February of 1962 they would release the track “Joey Baby”. This was a rather subtle stab at landing a teen oriented ballad. Anita takes the lead vocal on this track. It only made it to number 91 on the Hot 100.
The flip side “Rinky Tinky Rhythm” was sort of a fun bouncy teen dance almost do-wopish tune as well but to no avail on the pop charts. The follow up release on RCA Victor was a Patience and Prudence sound-a-like called “Tell-Tale”. That song was penned by British pop writer Tony Hatch. He was the writer of such hits as “Downtown”, “I Know a Place” and “A Sign of the Times” for Petula Clark as well as several tracks for English singer Jackie Trent during the British Invasion Era. He also wrote “To Show I Love You” for Peter and Gordon.
Studio work was plentiful for the Anita Kerr Singers, with the group continuing on usually as a quartet, backing Perry Como, Pat Boon, Brenda Lee, Bobby Vinton, Roy Orbison and so many more. Anita moved out from Nashville to Los Angeles forming a new group of singers which included Jackie Ward (“Robin Ward”) as presented on this site recently.
This time the singers were signed to a Warner Brothers contract where they remained for five years. The Anita Kerr Singers were bestowed with a Grammy Award in 1965 for “Best Performance by a Vocal Group”. They would be awarded four additional Grammys through the years. They undertook television advertising jingles and Anita worked on the Smothers Brothers television show as a music director. The singers continued to be recognized for outstanding performances after signing with Dot records in the late 1960’s.
The group performed as “The Four Voices”, “The Velvet Voices”, backed Bert Kaempfert, Gene Autry and were the voices behind scores of pop music compilations through the years. They became RCA’s “Living Voices” releasing several LP’s in that label’s series. For Warner Brothers they performed as “The Mexicali Singers”. Anita arranged the tracks for the San Sebastian Strings on Warner Brothers. Anita moved to Switzerland where she worked tirelessly in the European music market.
In short, Anita Kerr and her singers were just about everywhere singing in endless styles and presenting us with those special background harmonies that made good songs better.