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Kaye, born in Lakewood, Ohio, graduated from Rocky River High School in Rocky River, Ohio. At Ohio University in Athens, Ohio he was a member of Theta Chi Fraternity. Kaye could play the saxophoneand the clarinet, but he never featured himself as a soloist on either one.
A leader of one of the so-called "Sweet" bands of the Big Band Era, he made a large number of records for Vocalion Records, RCA Victor, Columbia Records, Bell Records, and the American Decca record label. He was also a hit on radio. Kaye was known for an audience participation gimmick called "So You Want To Lead A Band?" where audience members would be called onto stage in an attempt to conduct the orchestra, with the possibility of winning batons. Kaye was also known for his use of "singing of song titles," which was emulated by Kay Kyser and Blue Barron.
Shortly after the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, Sammy Kaye wrote the music and Don Reid wrote the words to "Remember Pearl Harbor", the tune of which was actually borrowed from Ohio University's "Alma Mater". On December 17, 1941, RCA Victor recorded the song, with Sammy Kaye's Swing and Sway Band and The Glee Club.
His band members included Ralph Flanagan, Dale Cornell, John Murawski, Sid Rhein and Marty Oscard. Singers included Don Cornell (not related to Dale Cornell), Billy Williams (the country music singer with the Pecos River Rogues), Tommy Ryan, Gary Willner, Barry Frank, Tony Russo, and Nancy Norman. All members of the band sometimes sang backing vocals in various combination as the "Kaydets."