By Mary Lathem
Discover something new today! This series explores the lives and contributions of classical artists with connections to the Carolinas. Intended as quick “brain breaks” for learners of all ages, these educational features can be divided into sections for daily reading or used as lesson plans for students at home.
NAME: Kathryn Grayson (1922 – 2010)
PROFESSION: Film star and singer
Kathryn’s granddaughter, Kristin Towers-Rowles, reprised her role as Lilli Vanessi/Kate in a 2011 regional theatre production of “Kiss Me Kate.”
Early Studies and Discovery
Kathryn Grayson (b. 1922 in Winston-Salem, NC) started out with a lofty dream: to become an opera star. As Kathryn sang on the empty stage of the St. Louis Municipal Opera House at age 12, a janitor was surprised by her talent and later introduced her to a voice teacher, the Chicago Civic Opera’s Frances Marshall. Kathryn trained with Marshall well into her teenage years, never losing sight of her operatic aspirations.
After moving to Los Angeles at 15, Kathryn was signed to the classical music label RCA Red Seal Records. Just three years later, her second “discovery” propelled her toward Hollywood stardom. Kathryn’s performance at a music festival caught the attention of an MGM talent scout, and though she repeatedly turned him down, the scout finally convinced her to be seen and heard by studio executives – and she was signed immediately.
The Making of a Household Name
Despite her burgeoning film career, Kathryn’s interest in opera did not fade. When she was invited to make her operatic debut at the Metropolitan Opera House after signing with MGM, executive Louis B. Mayer told her not to take the offer, arguing that it would dampen her chances as a film star.
After her debut in the 1941 feature “Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary,” Kathryn went on to appear in dozens of blockbuster films with MGM and other studios, including “Anchors Aweigh” (1945), “Show Boat” (1951), “Kiss Me Kate” (1953), and “So This is Love” (1953), starring as the opera and film legend Grace Moore. Her crystal-clear voice was key to nearly all of her roles, and operatic repertoire was often incorporated into her films to showcase her unusual ability. In musical films, Kathryn was regularly paired with costars Frank Sinatra, tenor Mario Lanza, and bass-baritone Howard Keel.
Stage Stardom and Legacy
After ending her film career on a dissatisfying note (1956’s The Vagabond King), Kathryn’s earlier passion for the stage resurfaced. In 1960, she made her operatic debut as Cio-Cio-san in a production of Madame Butterfly, fulfilling her lifelong dream. Her Broadway debut arrived two years later when she replaced Julie Andrews as Guenevere in Camelot (1962). Throughout the 1960s, Kathryn frequently appeared in stage productions of musicals and operas, including La Traviata, La bohème, and Show Boat. Her performance in a 1961 production of The Merry Widow earned her a nomination for Chicago’s Sarah Siddons award.
Kathryn made regular stage, concert, and television appearances over the decades, eventually adopting a more private life as she began to travel less often. In her later years, she supervised the Voice and Choral Studies Program at Idaho State University (where students could receive the Kathryn Grayson Vocal Excellence Award) and taught voice lessons from her home in Santa Monica. Though she is not remembered for opera stardom as she hoped, Kathryn’s bright, agile voice and unmistakable charm left an enduring mark on the advent of the Hollywood movie musical.
- “So In Love” from Kiss Me Kate (1953) – Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel
- “What’s Wrong With Me?” from The Kissing Bandit (1948) – Kathryn Grayson and Frank Sinatra
- Lucia di Lammermoor, Act I: “Verrano a te sull’aure” – Kathryn Grayson and Mario Lanza
- “Make Believe” from Show Boat (1951) – Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel
- Johann Strauss’ “Voices of Spring” from Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary (1941) – Kathryn Grayson
- “Micaela’s Aria” from Carmen – Kathryn Grayson
Sources and Further Reading
Kathryn Grayson Bio (The Official Website of Kathryn Grayson)
Kathryn Grayson (Hometowns to Hollywood)
Kathryn Grayson (Classical Crossover Magazine)
Kathryn Grayson, Operatic Film Star, Dies at 88 (New York Times)
Kathryn Grayson dies at 88; MGM singing star in 1940s, ‘50s (Los Angeles Times)