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Anita Kerr (1927-2022)

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Anita Kerr, a recording studio soprano and vocal arranger whose Anita Kerr Singers released a staggering number of mellifluous albums under the group's own name as FM radio embraced the “beautiful music" stereo format starting in the late 1960s, died on October 10. She was 94.

In addition to recording as a lead group, the Anita Kerr Singers recorded background vocals on dozens of albums by country stars and by easy-listening maestros such as Ray Coniff, Percy Faith and Bert Kaempfert. They were among the most prolific vocal session groups of the post-war years and were based in Nashville.

In the tumultuous 1960s and gloomier '70s, the Anita Kerr Singers recorded vocal pop albums that became an oasis for older listeners baffled by rock and soul and put off by classical. This largely suburban demographic preferred pop vocals with a straightforward approach that was relaxing and an audio respite from the gripes of rebellious teenagers and specter of ever-mounting bills. In many ways, the Anita Kerr Singers were the vocal version of a mixed drink—music that acclimated the soul as it re-entered home space and took the work edge off and erased any lingering crankiness.

I must confess, I've long been a closeted Anita Kerr Singers fan—not in awe of their penchant for mediocrity and sappy takes on contemporary hits but Kerr's tight harmonies and vocal arrangements. I'm a fan of hard work, perfection and tight execution, and Kerr was a master of all three. On the right songs with the right instrumentation, the Anita Kerr Singers slipped into elegant territory.

Long ridiculed by the youth culture of the 1960s, the Anita Kerr Singers' albums were viewed as the fount of sunshine pop and the sound of conformity. But it's too easy to dismiss the group as glorified jingle singers. Kerr's vocal arrangements had style and came with an element of sophistication and beauty. The group also inspired many commercial vocal groups that followed, including Singers Unlimited, Sergio Mendes and the Brasil 66 and the Carpenters' overdubbed choral vocals.

Here are 10 of my favorites by the Anita Kerr Singers: 

Here's the theme to A Man and a Woman. Kerr's voice is on top...



Here's Henry Mancini's Dreamsville...



Here's Henry Mancini's Mr. Lucky...



Here's One Note Samba...



Here's George Shearing's Lullaby of Birdland...



Here's Thelonious Monk's 'Round Midnight...



Here's Burt Bacharach and Hal David's A House Is Not a Home...



Here's Early Autumn...



Here's Tony Hatch's My Love...



And here's the Anita Kerr Signers' cover of Major Harris's hit Love Won't Let Me Wait. It shouldn't work but it does...



Bonus: The sound Anita Kerr was shooting for began early. Here she is in 1950...



Bonus2: Here's just one more, a gorgeous rendition of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's Alfie...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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