Female Jazz Singers

Written on September 17, 2016   By   in Articles

Born in Virginia, Ella was raised in a New York orphanage. Fortunately, at age 16, she was talent-spotted at a singing contest, and she joined Chick Webb’s band in 1935.

During the mid-1950s and 1960s, with Norman Granz as her manager, Ella recorded her “songbooks” of some 250 songs, written by such renowned songwriters as Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin and more.

Ella also appeared on TV and in films, and in concerts world-wide – playing her rightful role at the top of female jazz singers.

In the 1970s, she suffered health problems but continued to perform until 1993, when diabetes claimed both her legs.

Innumerable honours were bestowed on Ella Fitzgerald. She garnered 12 Grammy Awards, received the Kenndy Center Honours (1979) and a National Medal of Arts (1987).

3 SARAH VAUGHAN (1924-1990)

Born in New Jersey, Sarah studied piano and organ at age seven, and sang in the church choir.

In the 1940s, Vaughan joined the bands of Earle Hines and Billy Eckstine. And in 1945, she recorded the famous song, “Lover Man”, with the bebop inventors, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

In the mid-1940s, Vaughan appeared on TV variety shows. In addition, she made three movies in the 1950s and 1960s – underscoring her pre-eminence among female jazz singers.

By the 1950s, Sarah became an international star and her song, “Broken-Hearted Melody”, sold over one million copies. She then embarked on world tours in the 1970s and 1980s.

4 HELEN FORREST (1918-1999)

Helen Forrest, aka The Blue Lady, was a popular big band era jazz singer. She was noted for her ability to project lyrics and her excellent interpretation. Her smooth and swinging voice was soft and warm.

Helen was born in Atlantic City. As a young girl, she sang in New York radio stations and then in her brother’s Washington band. She later became the lead singer in Artie Shaw’s band in 1938, replacing Billie Holiday. She also graced the bands of Harry James, Benny Goodman and others in later years.

5 ANITA O’DAY (born 1913)

An international star, Anita O’Day is a living legend among female jazz singers. Her long career, begun in the 1930s, continues today. In fact, her latest album is to be released in 2006.

Anita was born in Chicago, Illinois. In the late 1930s, she left her broken home to dance and sing. Talent-spotted by drummer Gene Krupa in 1941, she sang in his band and achieved notable success. She was one of top five big band singers in 1942.

In the late 1940s, she went solo. She sang very sucessfully with John Pool, her favourite drummer – for 32 years.

Her 1955 album, “This is Anita O’Day”, greatly boosted her career. She went on to record several other albums in the 1950s to 1970s.

Anita also performed with many famous musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington, Thelonious Monk and George Shearing. And, more importantly, the 1958 documentary, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day”, made her an international star – one of the top female jazz singers.

In the 1960s, her heroin addiction brought her low. After a long break, Anita resumed her performance, and published her autobiography “High Times, Hard Times” in 1981.

Anita lives in California. Her new album to be issued in 2006 is “Indestructible Anita O’Day”.

6 DINAH WASHINGTON (1924-1963)

Dinah Washington was a singer of many parts. Extremely gifted and versatile, she had a highly-pitched and crystal-clear voice. But jazz was only one of the several genres she performed with great distinction.

She was born in Alabama as Ruth Jones. When very young, she moved with her pianist mother to Chicago where, later, she played the piano and sang spirituals. She then switched to secular songs, including jazz.

In 1943, Lionel Hampton spotted and recruited her to sing in his band. Three years later, Dinah left to solo on her own.

Soon, in 1946, her solo performance marked her as a rising star among female jazz singers. In the 1950s, Dinah interacted very heavily with many jazz musicians. These included Cliff Brown (trumpet), Max Roach (drums), Quincy Jones (arranger), Wynton Kelly (piano) and Eddie Chamblee (saxophone), who became her husband.