Shirley Horn in 1995.
|Birth name||Shirley Valerie Horn|
May 1, 1934|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Died||October 20, 2005(aged 71)|
|Associated acts||Miles Davis
Horn collaborated with many jazz greats including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielemans, Ron Carter, Carmen McRae, Wynton Marsalis and others. She was most noted for her ability to accompany herself with nearly incomparable independence and ability on the piano while singing, something described by arranger Johnny Mandel as "like having two heads", and for her rich, lush voice, a smoky contralto, which was described by noted producer and arranger Quincy Jones as "like clothing, as she seduces you with her voice". Although she could swing as strongly as any straight-ahead jazz artist, Horn's reputation rode on her exquisite ballad work.
Encouraged by her grandmother, who was an amateur organist, Horn began piano lessons at the age of four. At twelve, Horn studied piano and composition at Howard University and later majored from there in classical music. Horn was offered a place at the Juilliard School, but her family could not afford to send her there. Horn formed her first Jazz piano trio when she was twenty. Horn's early piano influences were Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, and moving away from her classical background, Horn later said that "Oscar Peterson became my Rachmaninov, and Ahmad Jamal became my Debussy." She then became enamored with the famous U Street jazz area of Washington (largely destroyed in the 1968 riots), sneaking into jazz clubs before she was of legal age.
Horn first achieved fame in 1960, when Miles Davis "discovered" her. Davis' praise had particular resonance in two respects, one because he was so highly respected as a musician, and two because he rarely had anything positive to publicly offer about any musician at that time. Shirley had, though, recorded several songs with violinist Stuff Smith in 1959 both as a pianist and a singer. After her discovery by Davis, she recorded albums on different small labels in the early 1960s, eventually landing contracts with larger labels Mercury Records and Impulse Records. She was popular with jazz critics, but did not achieve significant popular success.
Quincy Jones attempted to make Horn into a pure vocalist in several recording sessions, something he later hinted may have been a mistake. Horn was also disturbed by the changes in popular music in the 1960s following the arrival of The Beatles, and stated "I will not stoop to conquer" in largely rejecting efforts to remake her into a popular singer. From the late-1960s, she concentrated on raising her daughter Rainy with her husband, Shepherd Deering (whom she had married in 1955), and largely limited her performances to her native Washington, D.C.
Preferring to perform in small settings, as with her trio, she also recorded with orchestras, as on the 1992 album Here's to Life, which is highly rated by her fans, the title song (lyrics by Phyllis Molinary, music by Artie Butler) being generally considered as her signature song. Arranger Johnny Mandel won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocal(s) for that cd. A video documentary of Horn's life and music was released at the same time as "Here's To Life" and shared its title. At the time, Mandel commented that Horn's piano skill was comparable to that of the noted jazz great Bill Evans. A follow-up was made in 2001, named You're My Thrill.
Shirley Horn kept for twenty five years the same rhythm section: Charles Ables (bass) and Steve Williams (drums). Don Heckman wrote in the Los Angeles Times (February 2, 1995) about "the importance of bassist Charles Ables and drummer Steve Williams to Horn's sound. Working with boundless subtlety, following her every spontaneous twist and turn, they were the ideal accompanists for a performer who clearly will tolerate nothing less than perfection".
Due to health problems in the early 2000s, Horn had to cut back on her performances. After 2002, a foot amputation (from complications of diabetes) forced her to leave the piano playing to pianist George Mesterhazy. In late 2004, Horn felt able to play piano again, and recorded a live album for Verve, at Manhattan's Au Bar with trumpet player Roy Hargrove, which did not satisfy her. It remains unreleased except for tracks on But Beautiful - The Best of Shirley Horn.
A breast cancer survivor, she had been battling diabetes when she died of complications from diabetes, aged 71. She is interred at Ft. Lincoln Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Awards & honors
Horn was nominated for nine Grammy Awards during her career, winning the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance at the 41st Grammy Awards for I Remember Miles, a tribute to her friend and mentor.
She was officially recognized by the 109th US Congress for "her many achievements and contributions to the world of jazz and American culture", and performed at The White House for several U.S. presidents. Horn was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the Berklee College of Music in 2002.
She was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award in 2005 (the highest honors that the United States bestows upon jazz musicians).
- 1960: Embers and Ashes
- 1961: Live at the Village Vanguard (live)
- 1963: Loads of Love (Mercury)
- 1963: Shirley Horn with Horns (Mercury)
- 1965: Travelin' Light (ABC-Paramount)
- 1973: Where Are You Going (Perception)
- 1978: A Lazy Afternoon
- 1981: All Night Long (live)
- 1981: Violets for Your Furs (live)
- 1984: Garden of the Blues (live)
- 1987: All of Me
- 1987: Softly
- 1987: I Thought About You (Verve, live)
- 1989: Close Enough for Love (Verve)
- 1991: You Won't Forget Me (Verve, with Miles Davis)
- 1992: Here's to Life (Verve)
- 1993: Light Out of Darkness (A Tribute to Ray Charles) (Verve)
- 1994: I Love You, Paris (Verve, live)
- 1994: Live at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival (Verve, live, released 2008)
- 1996: The Main Ingredient (Verve)
- 1997: Loving You (Verve)
- 1998: I Remember Miles (Verve)
- 1999: Quiet Now: Come a Little Closer (compilation) (Verve)
- 1999: Ultimate Shirley Horn (compilation) (Verve)
- 2001: You're My Thrill (Verve)
- 2003: May the Music Never End (Verve)
- With Charlie Haden
- The Art of the Song (1999)
- With Antonio Carlos Jobim
- Antonio Carlos Jobim and Friends (live, 1985)
- With The Legacy Band
- The Legacy Lives On, Vol. 1 (2000)
- With Carmen McRae
- Sarah: Dedicated to You (1991)
- With Oscar Peterson
- A Tribute to Oscar Peterson – Live at the Town Hall (Telarc, live, 1996)
- With Jeffery Smith
- Ramona (Verve, 1995)
- With Stuff Smith
- Cat on a Hot Fiddle (Verve, 1959)
- With Clark Terry
- Clark Terry Quintet: Live On QE2 (2001, live)
- With Toots Thielemans
- For My Lady (1991)
- With Joe Williams
- In Good Company (Verve, 1989)
- Fordham, John (25 October 2005). "Shirley Horn: Jazz singer-pianist whose distinctive slow tempos captivated her audiences". London: The Guardian.
- Shirley Horn at Find A Grave
- NEA Jazz Masters biography
- Artist Page at Verve Music
- Shirley Horn Discography at www.JazzDiscography.com
- Washington Post obituary October 22, 2005
- BBC News: Jazz star Shirley Horn dies at 71
- Shirley Horn's Jazz Profile at NPR
- Shirley Horn in 2002 on WBUR-FM The Connection
- VOA "Special English" program on Shirley Horn (2005)
- NEA Jazz Masters video biography of Shirley Horn