Kay Finegan, a singer and music arranger of the big band era who later reinvented herself as one of New York’s top caterers, died April 22 in Lincroft, N.J. She was 95.
In her music career she worked with Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers and Ted Fioritto. She called herself “the hyphen” in the Sauter-Finegan orchestra co-founded by her husband, Bill Finegan.
Born in San Francisco as Vivian Blessing, Finegan went out on her own as a teenager and began singing in speakeasies of the 1920s under the name Kay Ray. She caught the eye of wealthy benefactors who suggested she open her own club.
She met Bill Finegan in 1936, and plunged into the heady world of the big band era, becoming the band singer, manager and credited arranger with Finegan on many famous tunes including “Little Brown Jug.”
When she and Finegan divorced in the early 1960s, she was a grandmother in her 50s seeking a new career. She chose to become a caterer, leasing a small storefront on New York’s First Avenue.
She named the place Call Cuisine and every day she would feature a gourmet take-home dinner in the window that included a salad, entrée and dessert. Each order came in a china casserole which had to be returned, ensuring that customers would come back.
As her fame spread, New York’s elite would send limousines to her shop to collect their dinners. Among her apprentices was Patrick Terrail, who later started Ma Maison in Los Angeles.
At 70, she catered one last enormous party, then sold Call Cuisine, which is still on First Avenue. She began traveling full-time and, at 75, entered an around-the-world scavenger hunt.
She is survived by three grandsons and a great granddaughter.