Kathryn Wimp

Name: Kathryn Wimp (McDonald)
Birth Date: December 5, 1920
Birth Place: Evanston Illinois, USA
Death Date: January 2012
Death Location: Apopka FL


Katherine McDonald Wimp (better known by her stage name, Kay Davis) (1920-) was a classically trained vocalist, receiving her Master degree from NU in 1943. She joined Duke Ellington’s band in 1944 as one of his trio of female singers and toured with the band throughout the U.S. and Europe in the 1940s before retiring from music in 1950. She is known for her wordless vocal technique and for singing the debut of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” at Carnegie Hall in 1948.


Kathryn McDonald Wimp, known better as Kay Davis, was a vocalist for the Duke Ellington Orchestra for six years. After graduating from Evanston Township, she attended and graduated from Northwestern University with a Bachelors and Masters degree in Music. While attending Northwestern, she was one of six African-American students in the School of Music. At that time, African-American students were not allowed to live on campus. In 1944, Wimp auditioned for Duke Ellington, and after attending one of her recitals, he invited her to join. Her first recording occurred after Ellington heard her humming a countermelody to “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” which he decided to keep in the piece. Wimp was well known for her worldless vocal technique but also performed songs such as A City Called Heaven and Creole Love Call. Wimp performed Creole Love Call at Carnegie Hall on December 18, 1944, and just before the performance started, Ellington introduced her to the piece and told she would be singing it in that performance. Kay sang with three other women in the band, which at the time was innovative (as previously it was normally only one woman and one man). She toured with Ellington’s band in Europe from 1948-1950. In addition to her singing, she was a trained Cordon Bleu chef. In 1950, after six years of performing, Wimp left the band and married her husband.

Education: Northwestern University: MA, 1943. Northwestern University: Bachelor's in Voice and Piano, 1942.
Years in Evanston: 1920-1950

Sources: Archives and Collections: Northwestern University Archives Newspapers: Shorefront, vol. no. 1, Summer 1999. Secondary Sources: Su, Jennifer. "Sophisticated Lady." Northwestern Alumni News, Summer 2001. http://www.northwestern.edu/magazine/northwestern/summer2001/alumninews/sophisticatedlady.htm Chicago Sun Times Obituary: http://www.suntimes.com/news/obituaries/10669101-418/soprano-was-one-of-last-links-to-duke-ellington.html