Jazz Singer Anita O'Day Dies at 87
Mon, 27 Nov 2006 09:27:55
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Anita O'Day, who was among the best-regarded singers of the Big Band era, died Thursday, November 23rd in Los Angeles after battling pneumonia. O'Day was 87 years old.
She began her career as a contestant in a dance marathon, and then made her inroads into the music business when she began singing with the Gene Krupa Orchestra. Her first hit, "Let Me Off Uptown," was a duet with Krupa's trumpeter, Roy Eldridge. She had another big hit, "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine," during a brief stint with Stan Kenton's orchestra. Self-taught as a vocalist, she won a reputation for bringing unique styling and personality to the standards she tackled. She also bucked some societal roles of the time, playing alongside black musicians during the 1940s and wearing a "one of the guys" band jacket instead of the usual attire for a female singer.
Offstage, O'Day had a long battle with heroin addiction, which nearly killed her in the 1960s. She was arrested twice for marijuana possession, and had such a hectic love life that she was nicknamed the "Jezebel of Jazz." O'Day documented some of these struggles -- which she acknowledged had increased her fame -- in her 1981 autobiography, High Times Hard Times.
She continued to perform in her hometown of Los Angeles during the final years of her life. In 1997, she received a lifetime achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
A documentary on O'Day, Anita O'Day: Life of a Jazz Singer, is forthcoming. In the film, jazz critic Will Friedwald says that O'Day was the only white female singer who was in the same class as luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan.
--The ARTISTdirect Staff