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Fitzgerald, Ella  

Jessica Bissett Perea

(Jane )

(b Newport News, VA, April 25, 1917; d Beverly Hills, CA, June 15, 1996). American jazz singer. Ella Jane Fitzgerald was raised in Yonkers, New York, and from an early age developed an affinity for performing, despite personal hardships including childhood poverty, not knowing her biological father, and her mother’s sudden death in 1932. Although her first love was dancing, her early vocal influences included popular musicians such as Connee Boswell of the Boswell Sisters, Leo Watson, and Louis Armstrong. In 1934 a 17-year-old Fitzgerald entered and won the Amateur Night competition at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, and from there began singing in various Harlem clubs such as the Savoy. In 1935 Fitzgerald met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. Webb was initially reluctant to hire the young singer; but by 1937 Fitzgerald’s voice was featured on over half of his band’s repertoire. In 1938 Fitzgerald recorded her first number-one hit with the band, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” a swinging nursery rhyme to which she also wrote the lyrics. After Webb’s untimely death in ...


Jeffries, Herb  

E. Ron Horton

[HerbertJeffrey, HerbertBalentino, Umbertothe Bronze Buckaroo]

(b Detroit, MI, Sept 24, 1913/14; d West Hills, CA, May 25, 2014). American jazz vocalist and actor. He began his professional singing career at 14 and then worked with such well-known jazz musicians as Erskine Tate, Earl Hines, and Blanche Calloway. In the late 1930s he made five films as America’s first black singing cowboy starting with Harlem on the Prairie (1937). He conceived the idea of making the movie himself in a conscious effort to create a character that could be a model for brown-skinned children. Jeffries, who identified his mother as Irish and his father as mixed-race Sicilian, was almost denied the role because his physical features were considered by some not to be African American enough, although he proudly identified himself as black in both professional and social terms. He successfully fought for the role, which earned him the nickname the Bronze Buckaroo, and his films appealed to a more widespread audience than expected. Jeffries worked with the Duke Ellington Orchestra from ...


Johnson, Lonnie  

Dean Alger

[Alonzo ]

(b New Orleans, LA, Feb 8, 1894; d Toronto, ON, June 16, 1970). American blues and jazz guitarist and singer. Research indicates that Johnson was born in 1894 (Alger). He was influenced by the musical activities of his family and the rich musical environment in New Orleans of the early 1900s, including the early blues, jazz, and the lyrically expressive French and Spanish music traditions. He began playing violin, developed excellent guitar skill, and by the 1920s was also recording on piano, banjo, mandolin, and harmonium.

Johnson performed on violin with Charlie Creath’s band on the Mississippi riverboat St. Paul, and after winning a blues singing contest in St. Louis, he began his recording career with OKeh Records. His first recording featured “Mr. Johnson’s Blues” and “Falling Rain Blues” (OK, 1925) and was a two-sided hit. From 1925 through 1932 he made more recordings than any other bluesman. In late ...


Lee, Jeanne  

Jessica Bissett Perea

(b New York, NY, Jan 29, 1939; d Tijuana, Mexico, Oct 25, 2000). American jazz singer, lyricist, composer–improviser, multidisciplinary artist, and educator. During her 40-year career she performed internationally and recorded more than 40 albums, working with such artists as Carla Bley, Anthony Braxton, Marion Brown, Enrico Rava, Andrew Cyrille, Roland Kirk, Jimmy Lyons, Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, Cecil Taylor, and Reggie Workman. Her vocal style reflects the influence of early mainstream jazz vocalists, including Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington, and the intellectualism of postwar avant-garde jazz and experimental music. Starting in the 1960s Lee forged a new path in multidisciplinary performance that fused the aesthetics of modern dance, vocal improvisation and sound poetry (intonation, non-verbal utterances, and vocalizations), and visual arts (paintings, slide projections, and film). In the 1970s she established Earthforms Rituals, a nonprofit corporation that promoted concerts and educational programs. She also completed an MA in education at New York University in ...


Noge, Yoko  

Megan E. Hill

(b Osaka, Japan, 1957). Jazz and blues pianist, singer, and composer of Japanese birth. She took piano lessons briefly as a child and was exposed to the blues while growing up in Osaka in the 1960s and 1970s. As a high school student, she formed the Yoko Blues Band with classmates. The band earned some success, winning first prize and a recording contract in a television-sponsored contest. In 1984 she moved to the United States to pursue a jazz and blues career in Chicago. Initially a singer, she studied piano with boogie, blues, and jazz pianist Erwin Helfer. In the early 1990s Noge established the Jazz Me Blues Band, which has played regularly in Chicago since its formation. In addition to Noge on piano and vocals, the ensemble has included Noge’s husband, Clark Dean, on soprano saxophone, saxophonist Jimmy Ellis, trombonist Bill McFarland, and bassist Tatsu Aoki. In addition to playing more conventional jazz and blues, Noge has made a name for herself through the unique compositions she has written for the group, which meld Japanese folk music styles with Chicago blues. Active in the broader Asian American community, she cofounded the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival in ...


O’Day [Colton], Anita  

Jonas Westover

(Belle )

(b Chicago, IL, Oct 18, 1919; d Los Angeles, CA, Nov 23, 2006). American jazz singer. She began to appear in show business as a dancer on the endurance dance contest circuit, where she was occasionally invited to sing. At age 18 she became determined to become a professional singer. While working her way through numerous Chicago venues, she was seen at the Off Beat club by Gene Krupa, who hired her to sing with his band. The result for O’Day was almost instant success; not only did her recording of the song “Let me off Uptown” (1941, OK) become a huge hit, but she was also named New Star of the Year by Downbeat. Together with Krupa, O’Day recorded 34 songs plus two film shorts. She stayed with him until his group was disbanded in 1943 and returned to sing with him again in 1946. In the meantime she worked with Stan Kenton, recording a number of sides including “And her Tears Flowed like Wine” (...


Osborne [Orsborn], Mary  

Gayle Murchison

(Estella )

(b Minot, ND, 17/July 18, 1921; d Bakersfield, CA, March 4, 1992). American jazz guitarist and singer. One of 11 children born to Elvy and Estelle Orsborn, she was raised in Bismarck, North Dakota. Both parents played guitar and at an early age Osborne learned to play ukelele, violin, guitar, and bass. She played banjo in her father’s string band at ten and by 15 was a featured instrumentalist, singer, and dancer in a local trio. After hearing Charlie Christian in Bismarck, she switched to electric guitar. One of its early pioneers, she developed a single-line playing style influenced by Christian and Django Reinhardt. She played in an all-female band that later joined Buddy Rogers’ ensemble. In November 1942 she married the trumpeter Ralph Scaffidi. After Rogers’ band broke up, its members were stranded in New York, and Osborne found work as a radio musician and session player. In the late 1940s she led her own trio and recorded with Mercer Ellington and Coleman Hawkins, among others. From ...


Page, Hot Lips  

John Chilton

[Oran Thaddeus ]

(b Dallas, TX, Jan 27, 1908; d New York, NY, Nov 5, 1954). American jazz trumpeter and singer. He worked as a professional musician in his home state of Texas during the 1920s and later maintained that he learned to play authentic blues by listening to the local performers there. He played with Walter Page’s Blue Devils (1928–30) then with Bennie Moten’s band (1931–3 and 1934). In 1936 he worked briefly with Count Basie’s band as a principal soloist, but left to become a solo artist at the behest of Louis Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser, a move generally regarded as having hurt a potentially illustrious career. Page gained much publicity during a brief stay with Artie Shaw’s band (1941–2). He also made many fine recordings under his own name (1938–54), often leading bands with some of the finest swing musicians, including Earl Bostic, Don Byas, J.C. Higginbotham, and Ben Webster, among his sidemen. His purposeful, exciting trumpet playing and deeply felt blues singing were probably too rugged to gain widespread favor. Throughout his career he thrived on the atmosphere of impromptu jam sessions, in which his searing tone, dramatic phrasing, and improvised blues lyrics were a source of considerable inspiration to fellow musicians....


Pastor, Tony  

Mark Tucker

(bandleader, singer and saxophonist)

(b Middletown, CT, Oct 26, 1907; d Old Lyme, CT, Oct 31, 1969). American bandleader, singer, and saxophonist. He began playing as a sideman in the orchestras of John Cavallaro, Irving Aaronson, and Vincent Lopez, before joining Artie Shaw’s band (1936), in which he was a tenor saxophone soloist and singer; “Indian Love Call” (1938, B♭) offers a good example of his throaty, somewhat gruff vocal style. After Shaw dissolved the band Pastor formed his own in 1940, taking some of Shaw’s players with him. Many of the group’s arrangements were written by the guitarist Al Avola, although Budd Johnson, Walter Fuller, and Ralph Flanagan also made contributions. Pastor’s singing was greatly influenced, he acknowledged, by Louis Armstrong and was always an important part of his shows. In the late 1940s Pastor also performed with Betty and Rosemary Clooney. He broke up his big band in ...


Pepper, Jim  

John-Carlos Perea

[James Gilbert ]

(b Salem, OR, June 18, 1941; d Portland, OR, Feb 10, 1992). American tenor and soprano saxophonist, singer, bandleader, and composer. Of Native American (Creek and Kaw) heritage, he was raised in Oregon and Oklahoma. Early musical influences included tap dance, big band jazz, Southern Plains powwow music and dance, and peyote music. Pepper moved to New York in 1964 and joined the Free Spirits (1966), an early fusion jazz ensemble featuring Larry Coryell and Bob Moses. After forming the group Everything is Everything (1967) with former members of Free Spirits Chris Hills and Columbus Baker, Pepper recorded “Witchi Tai To,” a composition fusing a peyote song with jazz, rock, and country influences. Released on Everything is Everything featuring Chris Hills (Vanguard Apostolic, 1969), “Witchi Tai To” peaked at number 69 on the Billboard pop charts. By 2011 it had been covered by at least 90 artists ranging from Brewer & Shipley, Jan Garbarek, and Oregon to the Paul Winter Consort and Joy Harjo. Pepper released four albums as a leader: ...


Pozo, Chano  

John Storm Roberts

[Pozo Gonzales, Luciano ]

(b Havana, Cuba, Jan 7, 1915; d New York, NY, Dec 2, 1948). Cuban drummer, singer, and dancer. His drumming and singing were rooted in Santeria, the lucumí faith derived from West African rituals. On 29 September 1947 he and the bongo player Chiquitico performed in a concert at Carnegie Hall with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie—a landmark event in the history of fusing elements of jazz and Latin music. Pozo was murdered before he could fully develop his ideas with Gillespie, but during his brief career in the United States he provided the starting point for much popular music of the late 1940s and the 50s. The collaboration between the two men, which produced the infectious “Manteca” (1947), supplied the initiative for American musicians, and some of the listening public, to appreciate fully the tradition of Latin music.

D. Gillespie and A. Fraser: To Be, or Not … to Bop: Memoirs...


Redd, Vi  

Yoko Suzuki

[Elvira; Meeks, Elvira; Goldberg, Elvira; Avelino, Elvira]

(b Los Angeles, CA, Sept 20, 1928). American jazz alto and soprano saxophonist, singer, and bandleader. Her father Alton Redd was a jazz drummer from New Orleans. Redd started to sing in church at about age 5 and played alto saxophone at about 12, studying with her great-aunt Alma Hightower, a noted music educator in Los Angeles. In about 1948 she formed a band with her first husband, trumpeter Nathaniel Meeks, and began performing professionally as a saxophonist and singer. She had her first son when she was in her late 20s and her second son a few years later. Between 1957 and 1961 she performed less often and taught at public schools. During the 1960s she performed at the renowned club Ronnie Scott’s for ten weeks and toured with Earl Hines and Count Basie. Leonard Feather produced her two albums, Bird Call (1962) and Lady Soul...


Reeves, Dianne  

Jeffrey Holmes

(b Detroit, MI, Oct 12, 1956). American jazz singer. She grew up in Denver and attended the University of Colorado. After mentoring by clark Terry she worked in Los Angeles as a session musician from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s and with the Latin/fusion band Caldera, Sergio Mendes, and Harry Belafonte successively. She began recording as a solo artist in 1982 and signed with the resurrected Blue Note/EMI label in 1987. She won an unprecedented three consecutive Grammy awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for In the Moment—Live in Concert (2001), The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan (2002), and A Little Moonlight (2003). On her nearly 20 albums, her voice evokes predecessors such as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Carmen McCrae but also is capable of sharing vocal hues with singers as diverse as Luther Vandross, Al Jarreau, and Sarah McLachlan. Her approach embraces R&B, African folk, pop, and world music currents delivered in a lyrical manner as well as scat-singing. As one of the most formidable and sought-after jazz vocalists of the early 21st century, she has performed at the closing ceremonies of the ...


Ross, Annie  

Jeffrey Holmes

[Lynch [née Short], Annabelle]

(b Mitcham, England, July 25, 1930; d New York, July 21, 2020). English jazz vocalist, naturalized American. Active in entertainment from childhood, she signed a six-month contract with MGM after entering a radio talent show. She subsequently appeared alongside Judy Garland in the film Presenting Lily Mars (1943). At age 14 she composed “Let’s Fly,” which was later recorded by Johnny Mercer and Jo Stafford. In the late 1940s she became involved in the modern-jazz scene in Paris, where she recorded “Le vent vert” with James Moody. In the 1950s she worked in New York with Max Roach, Tommy Potter, and George Wallington and toured with Lionel Hampton’s all-star band.

Ross was a founding member of the jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, for which she composed such jazz standards as “Twisted.” Beginning with Sing a Song of Basie (1957, ABC-Para.) and continuing until her departure (...


Rowles, Jimmy  

Luca Cerchiari

[Jimmie; Hunter, James George]

(b Spokane, WA, Aug 19, 1918; d Burbank, CA, May 28, 1996). American pianist and singer. A refined keyboard player and an occasional vocalist, he possessed a style that in some ways recalled Cole Porter’s. Initially self-taught, Rowles then studied at Gonzaga University in Spokane. His professional career began in the 1940s in California, where he performed with Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Woody Herman, and Dexter Gordon, among others. The following decade he spent more time accompanying singers, including Peggy Lee, Anita O’Day, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Mel Tormé, and such instrumental soloists as Buddy Rich, Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, Jimmy Giuffre, and Ray Brown. He recorded as a leader for Liberty, Pacific Jazz, Clef, and Verve and also worked as a studio musician for film and television. His later years included additional performing, touring (with Ella Fitzgerald), festival performances, and recording for Atlantic and Columbia, among other labels. One of his best known compositions, “The Peacocks,” has been covered by many interpreters and was featured in the film ...


Scott, Jimmy  

Nina Sun Eidsheim

[James] (Victor) [Little Jimmy Scott]

(b Cleveland, OH, July 17, 1925). American jazz singer. Born with Kallmann Syndrome, which prevented his voice from changing at puberty, Scott was initially a teenage novelty act due to his small stature and ambiguously gendered voice. His career began in earnest at Harlem’s Baby Grand in the mid-1940s, where he impressed listeners including Billie Holiday and Doc Pomus. He had his first recorded hits as an unnamed vocalist on Lionel Hampton’s “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” (1950–52) and Charlie Parker’s “Embraceable You” (1950).

1962’s Falling in Love is Wonderful, produced by Ray Charles on Tangerine Records, was a pivotal career point for Scott. But because he was legally contracted to Savoy Records, the album was withdrawn, as was The Source (Atlantic, 1969). Scott then fell off the music world’s radar due to professional and personal obstacles, and turned to nonmusical work. Live appearances on Newark’s WBGO put him back on the map in ...


Smith, Bessie  

Michael Meckna

revised by Richard Bernas

[Empress of the Blues]

(b Chattanooga, TN, 15 April 1894; d Clarksdale, MS, 26 Sept 1937). American blues, jazz, and vaudeville singer.

She began her professional career in 1912, leaving home as a dancer in a show whose singer was a budding Ma Rainey. She subsequently performed as a singer with touring shows, using Atlanta’s 81 Theatre as her base. She was performing and living in Philadelphia in 1922, when Columbia Records brought her to New York and launched her recording career with her rendition of Alberta Hunter’s “Downhearted Blues.” Record sales and sold-out theater tours soon established Smith as the most successful black performing artist of her day. Her tent show toured extensively throughout the South, traveling in its own railroad car, and she headlined elaborate vaudeville productions on the T.O.B.A. theater circuit. She had recorded about 200 selections for Columbia by 1931, when a depressed economy and changing public taste severely hit the recording industry; her contract was not renewed. In ...


Smith, Jabbo  

Chris Albertson

[Cladys ]

(b Pembroke, GA, Dec 24, 1908; d New York, NY, Jan 16, 1991). American jazz trumpeter, valve trombonist, and singer. Sent by his mother to the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston South Carolina at age six, he learned to play trombone at ten and made fund-raising tours with one of the orphanage’s brass bands. Around 1925 he was given nine dollars and sent home to his mother, but went to his sister in Philadelphia and on to Atlantic City, where bandleader Charlie Johnson hired him and eventually brought him to New York’s Small’s Paradise. He replaced Bubber Miley on a 1927 Duke Ellington recording session, declined an invitation to stay in the orchestra, and accepted a job with James P. Johnson’s and Fats Waller’s Broadway show Keep Shufflin’. When the show disbanded in Chicago at the end of 1928, Smith remained and found ample work. An imaginative trumpeter with a fiery style, he was often likened to Louis Armstrong, which prompted producer Mayo Williams to have him form a quintet that could be the Brunswick label’s answer to Armstrong’s popular Hot Five recordings. The Rhythm Aces recorded 20 selections and sales were disappointing, but these performances would, with time, establish his importance to the evolution of jazz trumpet style. Roy Eldridge, who cited Smith as a vital influence, would later serve as an inspiration to Dizzy Gillespie....


Smith, Stuff  

John Bass

[Hezekiah Le Roy Gordon ]

(b Portsmouth, OH, Aug 13, 1909; d Munich, Germany, Sept 25, 1967). American jazz violinist, singer, and bandleader. Growing up in a musical family, Smith earned a scholarship to Johnson C. Smith University (North Carolina) but left in 1926 to join Aunt Jemima’s Revue. From 1927 to 1930, he played with the Alfonso Trent Band, serving as conductor, principal soloist, and occasional vocalist (recording “After You’ve Gone” in 1930). He moved to Buffalo, New York, in 1930 to lead his own group.

Smith moved to New York in 1936, where he led a sextet at the Onyx Club. The band moved to Los Angeles for a brief engagement at the Famous Door (1937–8) before disbanding. From 1938 to 1945, Smith formed several groups, working mostly in Chicago and New York, including another stint at Onyx (1944–5). Between 1945 and 1956, Smith toured and recorded with others (Sun Ra in ...


Snow, Valaida  

John L. Clark Jr.

(b Chattanooga, TN, 2 June ?1900; d New York, NY, May 30, 1956). American singer, trumpeter, and dancer. Daughter of a mixed-race couple who were both entertainers and musicians, she learned several instruments before deciding to concentrate on trumpet. By the 1920s she was touring the T.O.B.A. circuit with various revues, and in 1926 she visited Shanghai. In 1935, her performance in Blackbirds of 1934 brought her to England, where she began making records that showed her chief instrumental and vocal influence to be Louis Armstrong. After a brief return in 1936 to the United States, where she performed with Earl Hines in Chicago and made films in Hollywood, Snow moved to Europe, where she made more films and recordings. She was incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp in Denmark in 1940 and was badly injured before being exchanged in 1943. After a recuperation period she continued touring and recording until her death during a comeback appearance at the Palace Theatre. Snow stands out from other women performers of her time in that she was known as much as an instrumentalist as a singer. Her extensive touring probably cost her the name recognition that professional stability might have brought, but her recordings show her to have been a fine, swing-influenced trumpeter and vocalist....