Harry Babbitt

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The longtime lead vocalist with Kay Kyser's big band, Harry Babbitt is perhaps best known to subsequent generations for providing the distinctive laugh of cartoon icon Woody Woodpecker. Born November…
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The longtime lead vocalist with Kay Kyser's big band, Harry Babbitt is perhaps best known to subsequent generations for providing the distinctive laugh of cartoon icon Woody Woodpecker. Born November 2, 1913 in St. Louis, Missouri, Babbitt joined Kyser's orchestra in 1938 -- with his warm high baritone voice and good looks (Kyser dubbed him "Handsome Harry"), he was a hit on record and film alike, in 1939 co-starring in That's Right, You're Wrong, the first of seven Hollywood features he made with the group. In addition to singing on hits including "The Umbrella Man," "Three Little Fishies," "Who Wouldn't Love You," "Jingle, Jangle, Jingle," and "He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings," Babbitt was also a featured player on the smash radio series Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge. From 1944 to 1946 he served in the U.S. Navy, returning to the Kyser group following his discharge -- in 1948, they recorded "The Woody Woodpecker Song," written by George Tibbles and Ramez Idriss in honor of the popular Walter Lanz animated creation. The Kyser disc sold 250,000 copies, and Babbitt also recorded a new version for use in Lanz's Oscar-nominated short Wet Blanket Policy. (The song would remain a staple of the Woody Woodpecker franchise for years to come.) Another Babbitt smash was his solo rendition of the seasonal hit "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" -- other solo efforts include "I'll Get By," "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" and "Portrait of Jenny." For close to a decade, he also hosted the weekday radio program The Second Cup of Coffee Club. Babbitt retired from performing in 1964 to begin a career in real estate, but following Kyser's 1985 death he acquired the rights to Kyser's name and catalog from the bandleader's widow, spending the next decade touring under the Kyser Orchestra aegis. Babbitt died of natural causes in a Newport Beach, California nursing home on April 9, 2004.