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Paula Kelly; Sang With Modernaires, Glenn Miller

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Paula Kelly, the former lead vocalist of the Modernaires, who not only became well known for her appearances with the Glenn Miller orchestra in the 1940s but continued to ride the crest of the Miller nostalgia tide many years later, died Thursday.

Her family said she died of a lingering illness in a Costa Mesa convalescent home. She was 72.

A spokesman for Pacific View Memorial Park Chapel in Newport Beach said a memorial service will be held for her Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Ray Anthony, a trumpeter with Miller who has become nationally recognized with his own band, remembered the singer as “really congenial, a real regular gal and a lot nicer than most.”

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Miss Kelly, whose daughter Paula Jr. continues to appear with the group, started her career in 1937 with the Dick Stabile Band and a year later joined Al Donahue, with whom she had a hit recording of “Jeepers Creepers.”

In 1941, she moved to the Miller group after the bandleader had added a vocal group, the Modernaires. The original lead female singer was Marion Hutton, but she became pregnant and Miller replaced her first with Dorothy Claire and then with Miss Kelly. The singer later married Hal Dickinson, a founder of the four- and sometimes five-person singing unit.

With Miller she was featured in the popular musical film “Sun Valley Serenade,” singing the title song and one of the biggest hits that Miller ever recorded, “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”

The Modernaires’ other hits with Miller’s band, by then the most popular in the nation, included “I Know Why” and “Juke Box Saturday Night.”

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When Miss Hutton returned to the band in 1941, Miss Kelly joined Artie Shaw, recording “Make Love to Me” and “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You.”

After Miller’s death in 1944, the Modernaires moved out on their own, recording and touring with Bob Crosby while appearing on his daytime TV show in the mid-1950s.

Miller’s death did not diminish interest in his music, and the Modernaires, while continuing to record as an independent group, also appeared in the Miller “ghost bands” fronted by Tex Beneke, Jerry Gray, Ray McKinley and others.

Miss Kelly retired in 1978, two years after remarrying (Dickinson had died in 1970). She turned the Modernaires over to her daughter and lived in a fashionable Laguna Beach home.

She is survived by her husband, Richard Turner, two other daughters, five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


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