Anita Jean Grilli (born October 13, 1927), known professionally as Anita Kerr, is an American singer, arranger, composer, conductor, pianist, and music producer. She recorded and performed successfully with her vocal harmony groups in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Europe.
Anita was born in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1947, she married Al Kerr, and they moved to Nashville the following year so that he could take a job as a dee-jay on WKDA. The performances of a vocal quintet she organized attracted the attention of a WSM radio program director, who then hired her to lead and arrange an octet choir on the radio station's "Sunday Down South" broadcasts. Joining her were singers Carl Garvin, Jim Hall, Doug Kirkham, Mary Ellen Puckett, Evelyn Wilson, Mildred Kirkham, and Don Fotrell. The group's first recording session was with Red Foley, and their collaboration resulted in a No. 16 hit on Billboard's Pop chart in 1950: Our Lady of Fatima. The following year, producer Owen Bradley signed them to record for Decca Records. Their talents in demand, Anita's group continued to sing backup for other country artists in Nashville, including Eddy Arnold, Burl Ives, and Ernest Tubb. The group's recording sessions—initially averaging two per week—increased to eight sessions weekly by 1955.
In 1956, Anita Kerr's singers won a contest on the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts national television program. Now, cut down to a quartet at Godfrey's suggestion, the group travelled to New York City two weeks out of every six to appear with Godfrey on his daily television and radio broadcasts. A few years later, Kerr and her singers performed five times a week with Jim Reeves on his national radio program at WSM. The quartet's roster at this time featured tenor Gil Wright, baritone Louis Nunley, alto Dottie Dillard, and Kerr herself as both soprano and arranger. Singers and arranger soon began contributing to between twelve and eighteen recording sessions weekly. Having previously backed Faron Young, Chet Atkins, and Webb Pierce on SESAC radio transcription sessions, the Anita Kerr Singers were invited to record their own songs for SESAC. Between 1959 and 1963, the group waxed sixty SESAC tracks. In 1960, as "The Little Dippers," the group recorded a hit single, "Forever", for the University label. Crediting herself as "Anita & Th' So-And-So's," Kerr multi-tracked her own voice to record the song Joey Baby, in 1961.
The Anita Kerr Singers signed with RCA Victor in 1961. Their first album for the label was From Nashville...The Hit Sound. Subsequent RCA Victor LPs extended the quartet's repertoire as they explored the soul songs of Ray Charles and the compositions of Henry Mancini.
The group's 1965 album We Dig Mancini won a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group. In addition to recording as themselves, the Singers continued to perform as backup singers in Nashville. Using Kerr's arrangements, they can be heard on songs by Hank Snow, Brenda Lee, Perry Como, Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Vinton, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Floyd Cramer, Al Hirt, Ann-Margret, and many other artists. Under her RCA contract, Kerr also arranged and produced a series of albums for The Living Voices on the RCA Camden budget label. These Living Voices recordings included the Anita Kerr Quartet, with the addition of 4 other vocalists to form an octet. In 1964, together with Chet Atkins and Jim Reeves, the Anita Kerr Singers toured Europe.
In the 1960s, Kerr composed and recorded numerous jingles for use by various American radio stations, including: Gene Autry's KMPC AM-710 in Los Angeles, California; WMCA AM-770 in New York City; WLS AM-890 in Chicago and at WGH AM-1310 in Newport News, Virginia.
The Anita Kerr Singers or The Jordanaires sang background on just about every Nashville hit in the late 1950s and early 1960s. After she and Al Kerr divorced, she disbanded the Nashville version of her Anita Kerr Singers and relocated to Los Angeles in August 1965 with her second husband, Swiss businessman Alex Grob, and her daughters Suzie & Kelly. She no longer wanted to just be a background singer or arranger on country songs – she wanted to do pop music, jazz and "do more orchestral writing and music that was not just country.". She hired some lawyers to get her out of her contract with RCA’s Nashville division, got a contract with Warner Bros. Records, and formed a Los Angeles version of the Anita Kerr Singers. The new group, for the next five years, would include the following personnel: alto B.J. Baker or Jackie Ward, tenor Gene Merlino or Bill Cole, baritone Bill Lee, bass Bob Tebow, and Kerr herself as soprano and arranger. The half dozen albums recorded by the Singers for Warner included a cover version of the song All You Need Is Love by The Beatles, and one of the LPs was exclusively devoted to the songs of composer Bert Kaempfert. Disguising the group as the Mexicali Singers, Kerr also recorded a trio of mariachi-flavored albums with musical arrangements reminiscent of the Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass sound. The Anita Kerr Singers won another Grammy Award for their recording of A Man And A Woman, released as a single on Warner Bros. Records.
In early 1967, Kerr signed on as choral director for the first season of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. She also conducted the choir and orchestra during the sessions for It's Real, a 1967 Capitol LP by singer Dale Evans. In 1967, Kerr, collaborating with poet Rod McKuen, composed, arranged, and conducted music for an instrumental/spoken-word album called The Sea. In 1969, Kerr signed with Dot Records. The Anita Kerr Singers Reflect on the Hits of Burt Bacharach & Hal David was the group's first and Edison-Award-winning album for Dot. The Anita Kerr Singers also recorded a pair of Dot Christmas-music LPs. In the late 1960s, Kerr not only recorded and performed with her own group, but she also arranged and produced records for other artists, including The Mystic Monks, Les Tres Guitars, and Teresa Bennett. Kerr's 1970 Dot album, Touchlove, was the first LP to showcase her skills as a pianist.
Kerr moved to Switzerland in 1970. Her recording sessions held in London, she launched the Anita Kerr Singers anew with UK talent: Anne Simmons, Ken Barrie (Postman Pat narrator & singer), and Danny Street. In 1971, the Singers recorded the LP A Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel. That same year, Kerr wrote original music and lyrics for the Ampex album A Christmas Story, and she felt privileged to conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during the recording sessions. Grob and Kerr bought Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. They sold it, in 1979, to the rock band Queen.
In 1972, Kerr wrote—and MCA Music published—a 103-page book (accompanied by five 45rpm records) called VOICES. With Complete Recorded Examples. That same year, the Anita Kerr Singers recorded two LPs for Philips and Kerr scored and conducted original music for the motion picture soundtrack to Limbo, a drama starring Kate Jackson. During the early 1970s, Kerr also made numerous personal appearances on television in the Netherlands. In 1974, Kerr began a five-year professional relationship with Word Records. In addition to recording four gospel albums with the Singers, Kerr arranged and produced a series of Hallelujah... instrumental albums for Word. She received Grammy nominations twice for her Word inspirational recordings.
During these years, Kerr also wrote choral and instrumental arrangements for Hal Leonard Corporation, the world's largest music print publisher.
In 1975, Kerr received a special ASCAP Award saluting "[a] lady of class and a first-class musician for her significant contributions to the birth and development of the Nashville Sound." Between 1977 and 1988 she continued to perform and record for a variety of record labels. Her work from this period includes: Anita Kerr Performs Wonders, as singer/arranger; The Sound of Warm, as pianist/arranger; and In The Soul, as composer/arranger.
In 1985, Kerr conducted her own composition of Piano, Piano as the Swiss entry for the 1985 Eurovision Song Contest in Göteborg, Sweden. There she earned her rank as the third female conductor in Eurovision history since the debut of two female conductors at the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest, these being Monica Dominique for Sweden and Nurit Hirsch for Israel. In 1992, Kerr received a NARAS Governors Award "[in] recognition of [her] outstanding contribution to American Music."
- Borrowed Angel/My Evening Prayer [1952/SP DECCA 9-27767 (US)]
- Have Faith/Pray [1952/SP DECCA 9-27872 (US)]
- Road Up Ahead/God Has Been Good To Me [1952/SP DECCA 9-28053 (US)]
- One Hour Ahead (with Burl Ives)/This Time Tomorrow (with Burl Ives) [1952/SP DECCA 9-28079 (US)]
- Church In The Wildwood (with Marie Knight)/He's My Light (with Marie Knight) [1952/SP DECCA 9-28138 (US)]
- Promise And A Prayer/My Grandmother's Place [1952/SP DECCA 9-28260 (US)]
- Brighten The Corner Where You Are (with Burl Ives)/Great White Bird (with Burl Ives) [1953/SP DECCA 9-28849 (US)]
- Don't Turn Around (with Sunshine Sue)/Over The Valley (with Sunshine Sue) [1953/SP DECCA 9-28923 (US)]
- Vision Of The Blessed Mother/God Is Everywhere [1953/SP DECCA 9-28962 (US)]
- After You/Not Mine [1954/SP DECCA 9-28996 (US)]
- In The Middle Of An Island/For You [1957/SP DECCA 9-30417 (US)]
- Keep Your Belt Buttoned Up Baby/Give In Give In (Steig in das Traumboot) [1958/SP DECCA 9-30756 (US)]
- My Love Is A Kitten/Strange Little Melody [1959/SP DECCA 9-31002 (US)]
- For You For Me Forevermore/Why Can't This Night Go On [1960/SP DECCA 9-31126 (US)]
- So-And-So's Tell Tale/To Each His Own [1962/SP RCA VICTOR 47-8050 (US)]
- Waitin' For The Evening Train (with Chet Atkins)/Guitar Country (with Chet Atkins) [1963/SP RCA VICTOR 47-8246 (US)]
- Copper Kettle/Summer Green And Winter White [1964/SP RCA VICTOR 47-8332 (US)]
- A Man And A Woman/Just Say Goodbye [1966/SP SEVEN ARTS 5866 (US)]
- One In A Row/Ever Constant Sea [1967/SP SEVEN ARTS 7010 (US)]
- I Can't Help Remembering/For Burt [1967/SP SEVEN ARTS 7065 (US)]
- Smile You Save For Strangers/In The Morning [1967/SP SEVEN ARTS 7085 (US)]
- No Salt On Her Tail/All This [1968/SP SEVEN ARTS 7161 (US)]
- One Day/One Up On Me [1968/SP SEVEN ARTS 7185 (US)]
- Wine In The Wind/Happiness [1968/SP SEVEN ARTS 7211 (US)]
- Alfie/A House Is Not A Home [1969/SP DOT 45-17210 (US)]
- Lalena/Suppose [1969/SP DOT 45-17270 (US)]
- Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da/You And I [1969/SP DOT 45-17315 (US)]
- Coco/Money Rings Out Like Freedom [1970/SP DOT 45-17334 (US)]
- Eli's Coming/Something [1970/SP AMPEX X 11042 (US)]
- Shine Shine/Medley [1970/SP AMPEX X 11050 (US)]
- Angels We Have Heard On High/O Holy Night [1970/SP AMPEX X 11051 (US)]
- Mary Kaye's Theme/Where Do I Go From Here [1972/SP DECCA 33032 (US)]
- At Seventeen/Masterpiece [1975/SP RCA VICTOR PB-10388 (US)]
Albums with the Anita Kerr Singers
- On This Holy Night [1959/LP SESAC N2603/04 (US)]
- Velvet Voices Through the Night [195x/LP SESAC N2605/06 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Quartet with Strings
- Four Voices in Hi-Fi [1957/LP DECCA DL-8647 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Quartet
- For You, For Me, Forevermore [1960/LP DECCA DL-74061 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Quartette
- From Nashville...The Hit Sound [1962/LP RCA VICTOR LSP-2480 (US)]
- Vocal Stylings of "The Genius" in Harmony [1962/LP RCA VICTOR LSP-2581 (US)] featuring the songs and hits of Ray Charles
- Tender Words [1963/LP RCA VICTOR LSP-2679 (US)]
- Mellow Moods of Love [1965/LP RCA VICTOR LSP-3322 (US)]
- We Dig Mancini [1965/LP RCA VICTOR LSP-3428 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Quartet
- A Sunday Serenade [1965/LP RCA VICTOR LSP-3485 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Quartet
- And Now...The Anita Kerr Orchestra! [1966/LP WARNER BROS WS-1640 (US)]
- Slightly Baroque [1966/LP WARNER BROS WS-1665 (US)]
- Bert Kaempfert Turns Us On! [1967/LP WARNER BROS WS-1707 (US)]
- All You Need Is Love [1967/LP WARNER BROS WS-1724 (US)]
- I Sang With Jim Reeves [1968/LP PHILIPS 066 (US)]
- Sounds [1968/LP WARNER BROS WS-1750 (US)]
- Georgia On My Mind [1968/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-2209 (US)], reissue of Anita's Vocal Stylings of "The Genius" in Harmony LP
- Till the End of Time [1969/LP DECCA DL-75159 (US)], reissue of Anita's For You, For Me, Forevermore LP
- The Anita Kerr Singers Reflect on the Hits of Burt Bacharach & Hal David [1969/LP DOT DLP-25906 (US)]
- Velvet Voices and Bold Brass [1969/LP DOT DLP-25951 (US)]
- Spend This Holiday With Me [1969/LP DOT DLP-25962 (US)]
- It's Anita Kerr Country [1970/LP DOT DLP-25976 (US)]
- Anita Kerr '70 [1970/LP DOT (US)]
- Christmas with Anita Kerr [1970/LP DOT HJD-182 (US)]
- Daytime Nighttime [1971/LP PHILIPS 093 (US)]
- A Tribute to Simon and Garfunkel [1971/LP HAPPY TIGER HT-1016 (US)]
- Grow to Know Me [1971/LP AMPEX A 10136 (US)]
- A Christmas Story [1971/LP AMPEX A 10142 (US)] with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
- Sentimental Journey [1972/LP PHILIPS 110 (US)]
- 'Round Midnight [1972/LP PHILIPS 123 (US)]
- My Coloring Book [1973/LP PHILIPS 010 (US)]
- Gentle as Morning [1975/LP WORD WST 8646 (US)]
- Walk a Little Slower [1975/LP WORD WST 8696 (US)]
- Precious Memories [1976/LP WORD WST 8706 (US)]
- Thank You, Lord [1979/LP WORD WSB 8811 (US)]
- Together [1979/LP PHILIPS 6423143 (NLD)]
Living Voices LPs
Arranged, conducted and produced by Anita Kerr: featuring the Anita Kerr Quartet (plus 4 additional vocalists).
- Living Voices Sing Irish Songs [1961/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-665 (US)]
- Living Voices Sing Indian Love Call and Other Great Duets and Love Songs [1962/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-697 (US)]
- Living Voices Sing Ramblin' Rose and Other Hits [1963/LP RCA CAMDEN CAL/CAS-748 (US)]
- Living Voices Sing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and Other Beautiful Songs [1963/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-764 (US)]
- Living Voices Sing Hootenanny Favorites [1963/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-786 (US)]
- Come To The Fair with the Living Voices [1964/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-812 (US)]
- I Don't Hurt Anymore and Other Country Favorites [1965/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-860 (US)]
- Music from Mary Poppins [1965/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-881 (US)]
- The Little Drummer Boy [1965/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-911 (US)]
- Positively 4th Street and Other Message Folk Songs [1966/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-947 (US)]
- The Living Voices Sing the Music from the Motion Picture The Singing Nun [1966/LP RCA CAMDEN CAS-974 (US)]
The Mexicali Singers LPs
Featuring the Anita Kerr Singers
- The Mexicali Singers [1966/LP WARNER BROS WS-1641 (US)]
- The Further Adventures of the Mexicali Singers [1966/LP WARNER BROS WS-1651 (US)]
- 'The Mexicali Singers Ride Again [1967/LP WARNER BROS WS-1677 (US)]
The San Sebastian Strings LPs
Music and arrangements by Anita Kerr. Words by Rod McKuen. Co-produced by Anita Kerr and Rod McKuen.
- The Sea [1967/LP WARNER BROS WS-1670 (US)]
- The Earth [1967/LP WARNER BROS WS-1705 (US)]
- The Sky [1968/LP WARNER BROS WS-1720 (US)]
- The Sea/The Earth/The Sky [1968/3LP WARNER BROS 3WS-1730 (US)]
- Home to the Sea [1968/LP WARNER BROS WS-1764 (US)]
- For Lovers [1969/LP WARNER BROS WS-1795 (US)]
- The Complete Sea [1969/3LP WARNER BROS 3WS-1827 (US)]
- The Soft Sea [1970/LP WARNER BROS WS-1839 (US)]
- Winter [1972/LP WARNER BROS BS-2622 (US)]
- Spring [197x/LP WARNER BROS (US)]
- Summer [1973/LP WARNER BROS BS-2707 (US)]
- Autumn [197x/LP WARNER BROS (US)]
- The Seasons [1973/4LP WARNER BROS 4WS-2754 (US)]
- Bouquet: The Best of the San Sebastian Strings [1974/LP WARNER BROS BS-2768 (US)]
- With Love [1975/LP WARNER BROS BS-2837 (US)]
- Near the Cross: Sacred Songs sung by Jimmie Davis by Jimmie Davis [1955/LP DECCA DL-8174] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- Hymn Time by Jimmie Davis [1957/LP DECCA DL-8572 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- The Door Is Always Open by Jimmie Davis [1958/LP DECCA DL-8729 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- He Walks With Thee by Red Foley [1958/LP DECCA DL-8767 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- Hail Him With A Song by Jimmie Davis [1958/LP DECCA DL-8786 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- The Versatile Burl Ives! by Burl Ives [1961/LP DECCA DL-74152 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- The Scene Changes by Perry Como [1965/LP RCA VICTOR LPM-3396 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Quartet
- Southland Favorites by George Beverly Shea [1965/LP RCA VICTOR LSP-3440 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Quartet
- George Beverly Shea Sings Southland Songs That Lift the Heart by George Beverly Shea [1966/LP RCA VICTOR LPM-3634 (US)] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- It's Real by Dale Evans [1967/LP CAPITOL ST-2772 (US)] chorus and orchestra conducted by Anita Kerr
- Amazing Grace by Jimmie Davis [1968/LP VOCALION VL 73862 (US)], reissue of Jimmie's Hail Him With A Song LP with two songs omitted
- Closing the Gap by the Mystic Monks [1968/LP RANWOOD RLP-8032 (US)] Anita Kerr as arranger/producer
- Yestergroovin' by Les Tres Guitars [1969/LP DOT DLP-25916 (US)] Anita Kerr as arranger/producer
- Anita Kerr Presents Teresa [1969/LP DOT DLP-25944 (US)] Anita Kerr as arranger/producer
- Touchlove [1969/LP DOT DLP-25970 (US)] Anita Kerr as pianist/arranger/producer
- In My Father's House by Jimmie Davis [1969/LP VOCALION VL-73878 (US)], reissue of Jimmie's The Door Is Always Open LP with two songs omitted
- I Believe by Red Foley [1969/LP VOCALION VL-73879 (US)], reissue of Red's He Walks With Thee LP with two songs omitted
- Hallelujah Brass [1975/LP WORD WST 8647 (US)] Anita Kerr as arranger/producer
- Hymns [1975/LP WORD WST 8692 (US)] Anita Kerr and Kurt Kaiser
- Hallelujah Guitars [1976/LP WORD WST 8707 (US)] Anita Kerr as arranger/producer
- Hallelujah Woodwinds [1977/LP WORD WST 8741 (US)] Anita Kerr as arranger/producer
- Anita Kerr and the French Connection [1977/RCA VICTOR APL1-2298 (US)] Anita Kerr as pianist/arranger/producer
- The Sound of Warm [1977/LP MONTE ROSA NN4 (US)] Anita Kerr as pianist/arranger/producer
- Hallelujah Voices [1979/LP WORD WSB 8808 (US)] Anita Kerr as arranger/producer
- Anita Kerr Performs Wonders [1979/LP CENTURY CRD-1160 (US)] Anita Kerr Singers perform the songs of Stevie Wonder
- Together [1979/LP PHILIPS 143 (US)] Anita Kerr, Harry van Hoof, and Pieter van Vollenhoven
- In The Soul [1988/LP GAIA 13 9004 (US)] Anita Kerr performs original music around the poetry of Walt Whitman
- Music is her Name [1992/CD SONY (US)], compilation of songs reissued from Anita's Sentimental Journey and 'Round Midnight LPs, respectively
- Anita Kerr's Christmas Story: The Angel in the Faded Blue Jeans [1993/CD BLACK TULIPS]--reissue of Anita's A Christmas Story LP
- Two Classic Albums from The Anita Kerr Singers [1999/CD COLLECTOR'S CHOICE (US)], reissue of Anita's The Anita Kerr Singers Reflect on the Hits of Burt Bacharach & Hal David and Velvet Voices and Bold Brass LPs, respectively
- The Jim Reeves Radio Show: Monday, February 24, 1958 [2003/CD BEAR FAMILY] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- The Jim Reeves Radio Show: February 25–28, 1958 [2004/CD BEAR FAMILY] as The Anita Kerr Singers
- Mr. Guitar: The Complete Recordings 1955-1960 by Chet Atkins [2004/7CD BEAR FAMILY]--includes 20 SESAC recordings with the Anita Kerr Singers
- Velvet Voices [2007/MP3 AND MORE BEARS] as The Anita Kerr Quartet
- Mansion Over The Hilltop [2007/MP3 AND MORE BEARS] with Faron Young -- as The Anita Kerr Singers
- On This Holy Night [2009/MP3 AND MORE BEARS], reissue of Anita's On This Holy Night LP
Awards and honors
- 1965: The Anita Kerr Singers album We Dig Mancini won a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group.
- 1965: George Beverly Shea's album Southland Favorites, to which The Anita Kerr Quartet contributed, won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel or Other Religious Recording (Musical).
- 1966: The Anita Kerr Singers single A Man and A Woman won a Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group.
- 1970: The Anita Kerr Singers album The Anita Kerr Singers Reflect on the Hits of Burt Bacharach & Hal David won an Edison Award.
- 1976: The Anita Kerr Singers album Gentle as Morning was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Inspirational Performance.
- 1976: The Anita Kerr Singers album Walk a Little Slower won a GMA Dove Award for Best Gospel Record Album of the Year by a Non-Gospel Artist.
- 1977: The Anita Kerr Singers album Precious Memories was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Inspirational Performance.