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Jazz singer and pianist Shirley Horn dies

Vocalist who got her start opening for Miles Davis was 71 years old
/ Source: The Associated Press

Shirley Horn, the jazz pianist and vocalist who got her start opening for Miles Davis and became revered as a master interpreter of American standards, has died at the age of 71, her record label said Friday.

Horn died Thursday night in her native Washington, D.C., after a long illness, according to a statement released by Verve Records.

Horn was often compared to Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae, and considered one of the last great jazz vocalists of her era. She told The Associated Press in a 1991 interview she didn’t think “there’s a category for me. I like to be referred to as a good singer of good songs in good taste.”

She started playing the piano when she was a child, and by the time she was a college student at Howard University, she had put together her first jazz trio. Her talent drew the attention of music legend Quincy Jones, who would produce her first albums, as well as Miles Davis, who asked her to open for him at the renowned Village Vanguard at 1960.

However, after producing two albums for Mercury Records, she had creative difference with the label and left. At the same time, she had a young daughter and decided to scale back on her performances and recordings.

“I just remembered when I was a young girl and 11 and 12 and I would come from music school, my mother was there with a hot meal,” she said in an interview with NPR in 2002. “I was there, and I was happy that I was.”

Horn’s career entered a renaissance when she signed with Verve Records in 1986. She went on to release several acclaimed albums, and was featured at major jazz festivals and venues around the globe. In her later years, she performed with artists ranging from Davis, who reunited with her for a rare appearance as a sideman on her 1991 album “You Won’t Forget Me,” to Wynton Marsalis.

She was nominated for multiple Grammys and won the award in 1991 for best jazz vocal performance. Last year, Horn was honored by National Endowment for the Arts as a jazz master.