Born Christine Joygena Porter, 11 August 1929, Nashville, Tennessee
Now largely forgotten, Christine Kittrell was a marvellous singer who handled R&B, blues, jazz and gospel material with equal ease. In the late 1940s and the 1950s she was the leading female night club vocalist on the Nashville scene. She made relatively few recordings in her long career, mainly on unfashionable labels and never had a national hit.
Nashville-born Christine Porter said she never knew who her father was and her mother died when she was just one year old. She was adopted and raised by an aunt and uncle, Roberta and Fred Pennington. Christine sang in church and started touring with a local church choir in 1943 (also the year of her first marriage, which lasted only two years). In 1945 she began to participate in talent shows and was soon booked by saxophonist Louis Brooks as the female singer with his band. She became Christine Kittrell when she married Hank Kittrell in the late 1940s.
It was with Brooks that she made her first record, “Old Man You’re Slipping”/ “Don’t Do It”, for the Tennessee label in Nashville (autumn 1951). Two further Tennessee singles came out in 1952, including “Sittin’ Here Drinking”, which sold some 150,000 copies in its first year, without making the national charts. Kittrell would re-record the song for Republic in 1954 and for the Vee-Jay label in 1961. A hot act around Nashville, the success led her to tour on a larger scale in Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and California, with some big names of the period such as Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Big Maybelle and Paul ‘Hucklebuck’ Williams.
At the end of 1952 Tennessee Records was closed down under the weight of official reprimands, and reformed by Bill Beasley as Republic Records. Kittrell recorded seven singles for the label (1953-55), initially backed by a group of New Orleans musicians working under the name of Guitar Red and the Hot Potatoes. On the 1954 remake of “Sittin’ Here Drinkin”, on its reverse, “Lord Have Mercy”, and on “ Call His Name”, Christine was accompanied by a band that included Little Richard on piano and Lee Diamond on sax.
In 1955 she relocated to Chicago and recorded at least two tracks for Chess, though nothing has ever been released ; the tapes seem to be lost. She returned temporarily to gospel music. A one-off single for Ted Jarrett’s Champion label in 1958 was her only release until 1961, the year in which she signed with Vee-Jay in Chicago. This association yielded two single releases, first a third version of “Sittin’ And Drinking” and, in 1962, the original version of the Leiber-Stoller number “I’m A Woman”. Soon it would be covered by Peggy Lee, who had a # 54 hit with the song in 1963 ; it developed into a standard popular song over the succeeding years. Although Christine’s version did not chart, it opened the doors for a better range of night club work around Chicago. After her Vee-Jay period Kittrell recorded a cover of “Love Letters” (copying the arrangement of the Ketty Lester hit) and a remake of “Call His Name” for Federal in 1965.
During 1964 and 1965 Christine started to accept offers to join entertainment groups touring American forces bases in the Far East, mainly in Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam. In August 1968, in Tu Lai, Vietnam, she was hit in the left foot, leg and hip by shrapnel flying from a Vietcong mortar bomb attack. She was hospitalised for the best part of a year and subsequently decided to retire from the music business, though still made some studio and radio recordings in Columbus, Ohio (where she had settled in the 1960s), over the next three decades. Occasionally she performed in clubs and at blues festivals until the 1990s.
In 1970 she took employment as a social worker, running a State of Ohio programme for delinquent girls. Unfortunately, in 1972 a hysterical young woman pushed Christine down three flights of a metal fire escape, injuring her spine severely and leading to another long period in hospital. She was registered disabled in 1975 and was in a motorised wheelchair in her later years. Christine Kittrell died on 19th December 2001 from emphysema, aged 72.
More info : http://www.allmusic.com/artist/christine-kittrell-mn0000126209
CD : Call Her Name, The Complete Recordings, 1951-1965. (Bear Family BCD 16942, 2010). 31 tracks. Liner notes by Martin Hawkins.
Acknowledgements : Martin Hawkins.
Dik, July 2016
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