Ernestine Anderson, Jazz Singer and Grammy Nominee, Dies at 87

David Redfern/Redferns
Ernestine Anderson performs on stage at the Windsor Jazz Festival on July 31, 1966.

Ernestine Anderson, the internationally celebrated jazz vocalist who earned four Grammy nominations during a six-decade career, has died. She was 87.

The King County Medical Examiner's Office said Sunday that it received a report that Anderson died of natural causes Thursday at a nursing home in Shoreline.

The jazz and blues singer performed all over the world, from the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall to festivals in South America, Japan and Europe, The Seattle Times reported.

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She toured widely and sang with bands led by Los Angeles R&B singer Johnny Otis and swing-band leader Lionel Hampton. She performed at the presidential inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Childhood friend and producer Quincy Jones once described her voice as the sound of "honey at dusk."

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Anderson, who was born in Houston to a construction worker and homemaker, began singing in church when she was 3 years old. She won a talent contest when she was 12 and sang at Houston's Eldorado Ballroom once a week for about four months.

Her family moved to Seattle in 1944 where she attended Garfield High School and began singing with the Bumps Blackwell Junior Band, featuring Jones, saxophonist Buddy Catlett and others. She left home at 18 to hit the road with Otis' band. She recorded her first single "K.C. Lover/Good Lovin' Babe" in 1948 and also married for the first time.

Over the decades, she moved between Los Angeles, New York and Europe but often returned to Seattle.

While in New York, Anderson recorded with Jones, Russell Jacquet, tenor saxophonist Clifford "King" Solomon and others, the newspaper reported.

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Frustrated with her slow career growth in New York, Anderson joined Swedish bandleader Rolf Ericson to tour Europe. While there, she recorded an album, "Hot Cargo," that was later released by Mercury Records in 1958 to rave reviews.

Time Magazine at the time called her "the best-kept jazz secret in the land" and critics of the country's leading jazz magazine, Down Beat, celebrated her as a "new star" of the year, The Seattle Times reported.

Anderson released six albums on Mercury Records, including the much-praised Moanin,' but her career subsided in the 1960s. In 1966, she returned to Seattle from London and quit singing.

She re-emerged, however, in the 1970s and signed with the Concord Jazz label. Anderson released Hello, Like Before in 1977. More than a dozen albums followed over the next 15 years.