BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

One of the great “could’ve beens” of early rock, Stevenson was young, beautiful and immensely talented, working with a top notch band and with an envious reputation already as a live act, but before she could get firmly established tragedy struck leaving behind only a small catalog of records as a testament to her vast potential.

Kitty Stevenson was born in 1918 and started a family while still in her teens, her three children – including future Motown A&R man, songwriter, producer and all around legend, William “Mickey” Stevenson – singing as a pre-pubescent amateur act while Kitty herself was gracing the stages of Detroit’s notorious Flame Show Bar.

Stevenson began appearing with fellow Detroit star Todd Rhodes in 1947 just as he was poised to become a national attraction thanks to a series of hit records on the local Sensation label. It was with Rhodes group backing her that she cut sides for Vitacoustic in 1947 but they went unreleased as the label folded soon after. Eventually one record from this date came out on Chicago disc jockey Al Benson’s Old Swing Master label in 1949.

But in spite of a lack of records to spread her name, Stevenson had no trouble making her own name on stage, as her looks (she was nicknamed The Blues Bombshell) and her singing reputedly dissuaded many a national female star, Dinah Washington among them, to refuse to let her open for them for fear of being upstaged.

With Rhodes having his own problems with record labels as he was caught in a tug-of-war between tiny Sensation and mighty King Records for the better part of two years, Stevenson’s opportunities to record languished until finally Rhodes brought her in to cut some of his last sides for Sensation in 1950 before taking a year’s sabbatical from studio work until his contract was up and he was free to sign with King.

There Stevenson resumed her own recording career but diagnosed with cancer she was often too-ill to perform and was replaced in Rhodes’ outfit by Connie Allen and later LaVern Baker.

Kitty Stevenson died at the age of 28 in June of 1952 with no hits to her name and as a result her legacy as one of rock’s best female vocalists in the genre’s first half dozen years has become all but forgotten in the years since.
 
 
KITTY STEVENSON DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

BLUES BY MYSELF
(Old Swing Master 10)
A powerful and nuanced vocal by Stevenson is hampered by the horn arrangement that reveals the track’s age as this was cut with Todd Rhodes back in late 1947 and only released fifteen months later. Stevenson’s performance however lost none of its effectiveness in the interim. (6)

IT AIN’T RIGHT
(Sensation 32; April 1950)
A radiant performance by Stevenson who grabs hold of this song with both hands and shakes it to its core, her enthusiasm making it glow as the band eggs her on with a vibrant track that matches her every step of the way. (8)

THAT’S THE GUY FOR ME
(Sensation 37; June, 1950)
Another great turn on vocals by Stevenson propels this upbeat rocker, but unfortunately Todd Rhodes saddles it with an outdated arrangement that while similarly paced is nevertheless well behind the stylistic curve. (5)

MAKE IT GOOD
(Sensation 37; June, 1950)
Dragged down by Rhodes’ unsympathetic arrangement where the moldy horns would be more at home a decade earlier it’s left to Stevenson’s prodigious vocal talent to rescue it and without a sharper written song there’s only so much she can do. (4)