Shirley Horn, the Grammy-winning jazz vocalist and pianist known for her intimate, whispery vocals and top-drawer piano playing, died yesterday (Oct. 20). She was 71.
Shirley Horn, the Grammy-winning jazz vocalist and pianist known for her intimate, whispery vocals and top-drawer piano playing, died yesterday (Oct. 20) at Gladys Spellman Nursing Home in Cheverly, Md. following an extended battle with diabetes. She was 71.
"Shirley Horn was a true innovator. She created a unique style of playing and singing that was not only original, but so penetrating and so much her own that few dared try to copy it," Verve Music Group president/CEO Ron Goldstein told Billboard.biz. "She was also a great character and I will miss all of my conversations with her, which were delivered in the same deadpan, ironic style that we all knew and loved from her performances."
Always respected critically, Horn became an unlikely star in her sixties with a series of luminous, best-selling albums for Verve Records throughout the 1990s.
Accompanying herself at the piano, Horn and her trademark vocal style also became a major influence on younger jazz singer-pianists such as Diana Krall and Norah Jones.
Horn was nominated for nine Grammys -- seven of them in consecutive years -- in the last decade. She won the best jazz vocal performance award in 1998 for her album, "I Remember Miles," dedicated to her good friend and mentor Miles Davis. Her last nomination was in 2003 for "May the Music Never End."
Horn's albums, "Here's To Life" and "You Won't Forget Me," both soared to No. 1 on the Billboard jazz chart. "Light Out of Darkness (A Tribute to Ray Charles)," "I Love You, Paris" and nine others easily made it to the top 10 spot on the jazz chart.
In 2002, the Berkelee School of Music presented Horn with an honorary doctor of music degree. Last year, the Kennedy Center presented a tribute concert honoring her 2004 National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master Award.
Horn began playing piano at age 10. At 18, she was awarded a music scholarship to Juilliard, but financial difficulties kept her in D.C.
After studying music at Howard University, she began her career in the late '50s as a pianist in local restaurants and night clubs, and eased into her role as a vocalist. She was a headliner at Washington's now-defunct One Step Down for more than twenty years.
In 1960, Davis coaxed Horn to open for him at New York's Village Vanguard after being captivated by her small-label debut recording, "Embers and Ashes." That engagement led to a contract with Mercury Records, where she cut albums with Quincy Jones and other top arrangers. She also sang on the 1968 movie soundtracks of "For Love Of Ivy" and "A Dandy In Aspic."
Horn cut back her touring in recent years due to diabetes complications, which eventually resulted in the amputation of a foot. She is survived by her husband, Sheppard Deering, and daughter, Rainy.
Billboard's Dan Ouellette covered Shirley Horn's collection, "But Beautiful: The Best of Shirley Horn on Verve," in the Oct. 29 edition of Billboard. Read the column here.