Norman Kaye, the last surviving member of the pioneering lounge act the Mary Kaye Trio and longtime poet laureate of Nevada, died Monday. He was 89.
With sister Mary and comedian Frank Ross, the Mary Kaye Trio put the Las Vegas lounge on the map as both physical space – the late-night focal point of golden-age casinos in the 1950s – and "lounge" as a freewheeling musical genre that would be fueled by Louis Prima and others to set the image of vintage Las Vegas.
"They changed the history of Las Vegas," television producer George Schlatter once said. "They were all over the room, and they were hysterical. Anybody who ever saw the act realized this was the most sound you ever got out of three pieces."
Kaye later saw his fortunes rise and fall as a local real estate broker. He formed Norman Kaye Real Estate long before the trio broke up in 1965, and in the late 1960s, it was described in news stories as the largest real estate company in Nevada.
He also was an active civic leader on the boards of several Las Vegas arts and business organizations.
The title he wore with most pride may have been his 37 years as the state’s poet laureate. The Nevada Arts Council endured a public relations sting in 2004 when it moved to change Kaye’s title to that of "emeritus" and find a more contemporary poet laureate.
Kaye also took pride in composing "Throw a Dime My Way," which became the theme song for the International March of Dimes. Another composition, "Have a Heart, Lend a Hand," was the theme for the Variety Clubs International.
Kaye was born Norman Kaaihue on Sept. 22, 1922. He and sister Mary were born into a Hawaiian show-business family, playing in their father’s band, Johnny Kaaihue’s Royal Hawaiians. After serving in the Army during World War II, he and his sister formed a group that evolved into the Mary Kaye Trio, first playing Las Vegas in 1947.
With Mary’s guitar skills, Norman’s rich singing and Ross’ comedy, the group proved versatile enough to improvise and hold a crowd’s attention for several sets over the course of a night. Chorus girls from neighboring hotels "would bring the whole line in," Norman once recalled, "and with the girls came the boys."
By 1954, the trio had moved to Las Vegas to work the midnight-to-dawn shift 22 weeks per year at the Last Frontier, with fans including the celebrity headliners from the Strip’s main showrooms. They recorded albums and appeared on TV variety shows of the day, but their outside fame never transcended their reputation in Las Vegas.
Ross died in 1995 and Mary Kaye in 2007. In 2008, Kaye suffered a stroke, and fellow entertainers came to his aid with a benefit show called "Enormous Norm-A-Thon" to help pay the expenses at his rehabilitation facility.
Kaye’s resume of community activity included service on the boards of the Theatre Arts Society, the Las Vegas Golden Circle, the Underprivileged Children’s Society of Valley Hospital, the University of Nevada Bicentennial, the Nevada Heart Association, the Multiple Charities of Nevada Art Fund and the Nevada State Council of the Arts.
Kay is survived by his fourth wife, Barbara Ann Meriwether, whom he married in 2006, a daughter, Sherry Marshall, and by four of his seven sons: John, Don, Richard and Tracy. Services are pending with Palm Northwest Mortuary, 6701 N. Jones Blvd.
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0288.