Kapp Records, founded in 1954, was born of good stock. The label was created by Dave Kapp, whose brother, Jack, had founded the US branch of Decca two decades earlier. The brothers had both been involved in the music industry from an early age, with their father, Russian immigrant Meyer Kapp, working as a salesman for Columbia in the early 1900s before setting up his own record shop – an act the brothers would imitate in the Twenties.
Jack passed away in the late Forties before he reached his fiftieth year. Dave spent a brief spell continuing his brother’s work at the head of American Decca before embarking on creating his own legacy with Kapp. The label would feature a number of notable artists across a wide variety of genres including pop, jazz and country during its two-decade existence, its artist roster including Cher, Louis Armstrong, film and Broadway star Fred Astaire and a young Burt Bacharach.
The label also licensed acts from across the globe for the American market. An example was English jazz musician Kenny Ball, who arrived at Kapp at the turn of the Sixties via British label Pye. With his band the Jazzmen, Ball became one of their most successful imports in 1961 with the million-selling Number 2 single ‘Midnight In Moscow’ (disc one). Follow-up hit ‘March Of The Siamese Children’ (disc two) gained similar success in the UK, but the group were unable to recreate their success across the pond.
Singer Jack Jones was more successful still, scooping a Grammy while under the Kapp umbrella. Jones won the award for best male pop performance in 1962 for his track ‘Lollipops And Roses’ (disc one). The success of tuxedo-clad Jones with the easy-listening pop track flew in the face of the emerging rock‘n’roll phenomenon. He would record more than 20 albums for Kapp over a seven-year period, bagging another Grammy in 1964 for the racier ‘Wives And Lovers’ before joining RCA in ’67.
The label gained a somewhat unfair label as a creator of ‘one-hit wonders’ in the States. Pop singer Jerry Keller wrote, recorded and released ‘Here Comes Summer’ (disc one) in 1959. It would send him rocketing into the US Top 20 and to the top of the UK charts, and big things appeared to be happening for the Arkansas native. Unfortunately for both Keller and Kapp, he didn’t live up to the hype. That said, he became an established songwriter, translating classic French tracks like ‘Un Homme Et Une Femme’ into English and having them sung by world-renowned artists including Ella Fitzgerald and Engelbert Humperdinck, as well as writing successfully for the big screen.
Some of the most successful artists on Kapp were pop singers, but Carmen McRae proved that it could do jazz too. Born in Harlem, McRae became one of the most influential female vocalists in the genre, her name mentioned in the same breath as good friend Billie Holiday. Though Carmen was better known for her work with labels like Columbia and Atlantic, it was her formative years at Decca and Kapp that helped establish her as a star. McRae would record a number of LPs for Kapp, covering standards, swing numbers and greats from American songwriters like ‘Willingly’ (disc two) and ‘The More I See You’ (disc one).
Kapp could also do novelty. In fact, ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ (disc one) by teenage bubblegum pop star Brian Hyland gave the label a Number 1 single in 1960, shifting more than two million copies and sending a 16-year-old Hyland to the top of the Billboard charts and onto the bedroom walls of girls across America. The track would go on to be covered many times over the years, most notably by children’s TV star Timmy Mallett, who took the track back to the top of the charts in the Nineties, albeit in the UK.
The label would continue to produce stars through the early to mid Sixties and also found a niche recording and releasing cast recordings of popular musicals. But in 1967 Dave Kapp called time on his involvement, selling the label created in his name to US music goliath MCA which had bought out American Decca five years earlier. Kapp would become a subsidiary of MCA-owned Universal City Records and, although it would retain the family name, was eventually folded into MCA during the Seventies.
With that, the Kapp name was removed from US music. But although the industry moved on, the legacy of the Russian immigrant who arrived in the US at the turn of the century to live the American Dream, and that of his sons who both made a mark on the US music scene, endures. This two-disc set showcases Kapp Records’ formative years and illustrates the family’s musical impact. Listen and doff your Kapp to one of the industry’s most influential families.