Mary Kaye

Mary Kaye was born on January 9, 1924 in Detroit, Michigan, as Malia Ka’aihue.  She began her musical career playing in her father’s band, before switching to the stage name “Kaye” and starting the Mary Kaye trio with bandmates Frank Ross and Norman Kaye. In an interview for Vintage Guitar magazine, Mary claimed that her father was Hawai’ian royalty. Her mother was instead a Detroit socialite. 

From that background, Kaye became one of the first artists, if not the founder, of the Las Vegas lounge phenomenon, characterised by all-night-long parties where celebrities and common people danced side by side in a freewheeling environment.  As she told Vintage Guitar magazine in 2006, “While in Chicago, we hooked up with Billy Burton, who became our manager. He brought us to the Frontier Hotel in Vegas. . . . While playing our first gig in the main showroom of the Frontier, we were asked to stay over after our four-week engagement had ended. Without a room to go to, I suggested a stage be built in the bar area and it could be called a ‘lounge.’ Jack Kozloff, the owner, and Eddie Fox, the general manager, had it constructed immediately. During its first week of operation, Frank Sinatra and friends dropped $120,000 on the tables, during what became known as the ‘dusk ’til dawn’ hours. This impressed the other hotels to the point where they began to stay open 24 hours. . . . Hotels began hunting for entertainers to fill their newly constructed lounges. Not all entertainment worked, but smaller, tight-knit groups were working out better than the big bands of that time.”

For much of her career, Kaye played with D’Angelico instruments, but her name became eponymous of the beautiful Blonde Stratocaster highlighted by golden hardware, despite she never actually owned a Mary Kaye. In Vegas, Kaye was introduced to Don Randall, one of the most renowned Fender sellers: “Around 1954, Don brought me a Fender guitar—not the Strat—to play onstage. Though I refused to play it, Don started bringing me Fender amps to use with my D’Angelicos. In ’55, Fender delivered the Blonde Strat to me, prior to the trio going onstage at the Frontier Hotel for the famous publicity shot, taken backstage. [The guitar] was returned to Fender later that evening. Six months later, Billy, our manager, set up an arrangement with Fender to let me use the Blonde Stratocaster in a Columbia movie [Cha-Cha-Cha Boom!], and again it was returned to Fender.”

Leo Fender promised her that guitar, that is the same that she was holding in the famous Fender's catalog and promotional photos, but the guitar remained in Fender’s hands. Thanks to those photos and movie appearance, the rare Blonde Stratocasters crowned by gold hardware have been associated with Mary Kayes ever since. As Kaye herself said, “I remember Billy was upset that the guitar was returned to Fender after Leo Fender had promised it to me. We were too busy with the trio’s career to ever look back and correct the mistake.” But Kaye was too busy picking her beloved D’Angelicos. 

This error was finally amended in 2002 when Fender presented Kaye with a one-and-only Custom shop Stratocaster named the White Beauty and bearing serial number MK001 and a back plate reading "To Mary Kaye From Your Friends at Fender". This can be also considered as the official recognition of a "Mary Kaye" model. 


Next player: Mark Knopfler