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October 22, 2005

Jazz singer, pianist Shirley Horn dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

Shirley Horn, the jazz pianist and vocalist known as one of the greatest jazz artists of her era, has died at the age of 71. Horn died Thursday in her native Washington, D.C. after a lengthy illness, as announced in a statement released by Verve Records.

Ms. Horn began playing piano at the age of four, and in her college years put together her first trio. Her easy delivery and great talent was recognized by jazz masters Quincy Jones, who produced her first recordings, and Miles Davis, who invited her to open for him in New York’s Village Vanguard in 1960.

After producing two albums for Mercury Records, she left citing creative differences. It was during this time she gave birth to her daughter, and scaled back her performances, giving her time to motherhood during the 70’s and 80’s.

Signing to Verve Records in 1986, her career rocketed once again, and she went on to release 14 albums with the label and was featured at major jazz festivals around the globe. Her trio consisted of bandmates Charles Ables, whom she worked with for 28 years, and drummer Steve Williams, who was part of her group for 18 years.

Nominated for multiple Grammys, Ms. Horn won the award in 1991 for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for her You Won’t Forget Me, where she reunited with Miles Davis. Davis recorded the horn tracks for the album shortly before his death.

Recognized on numerous occasions for her contributions, accolades include five WAMMYs (Washington area music industry award), the Mayor’s Arts Award for “Excellence in an Artistic Discipline” (Washington), Academie Du Jazz’s Prix Billie Holiday (France), the prestigious Edison Populair HR57 Award, and the Lionel Hampton Jazz Hall of Fame. ASCAP honored Horn “in recognition of over four decades of her unique and influential role in interpreting the American song,” and she was selected as the recipient of the Phineas Newborn, Jr. Award. Most recently, she was voted #1 female vocalist in the New York Jazz Critics Awards and #1 jazz vocalist in DownBeat’s Critics’ Poll.

In perhaps the greatest nod of recognition, last year Horn was honored by National Endowment for the Arts as a jazz master.

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