Singer and actress Kaye Stevens, who performed with the Rat Pack and was a frequent guest on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show,” died Wednesday at the Villages Hospital north of Orlando, Fla., following a battle with breast cancer and blood clots. She was 79.
Stevens performed with Rat Pack members including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. She also sang solo at venues like Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and the Plaza Hotel’s Persian Room in New York City.
During the Vietnam War era, Stevens performed for American soldiers in the war zone with Bob Hope’s USO tour.
Stevens was born Catherine Louise Stephens in Pittsburgh. Her family eventually moved to Cleveland, where a teenage Stevens got her start as a drummer and singer. She later married now deceased bandleader and trumpet player Tommy Amato, and the couple performed throughout the eastern U.S.
During a gig in New Jersey, Stevens was discovered by Ed McMahon, Carson’s longtime sidekick, which led to new bookings. Her big break came when she was playing a lounge at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas: Debbie Reynolds became ill and was unable to perform in the main room; Stevens filled in and was an instant hit.
Stevens released at least half a dozen album, most on Liberty Records. The 1962 novelty album “(Not So) Great Songs (Which Were Left Out of) Great Movies (For Obvious Reasons)” includes tracks such as “Splendor in the Grass (or, Lawn Parties Can Be Fun),” “Frankenstein (in 3/4 Time)” and “Judgment at Nuremberg (or, A Hun and His Honeybun).”
Besides singing, Stevens also acted in film and television. She appeared in six movies, earning a Golden Globe nomination in 1964 for “The New Interns.” She was a regular celebrity player on gameshows such as “Match Game,” “Hollywood Squares,” “Celebrity Sweepstakes,” and “Password” and appeared as a regular on “Days of Our Lives” from 1974-79. She most recently appeared onscreen in the 1992 telepic “Miss America: Behind the Crowns.”
During the past two decades, Stevens performed only Christian and patriotic music.