Anita O'Day: 1919-2006
- This story was sent to you by: Louis Rugani
Anita O'Day dies.
Anita O'Day: 1919-2006
A jazz legend born in Chicago
By Dennis McLellan
Tribune Newspapers: Los Angeles Times
November 24, 2006
LOS ANGELES -- Anita O'Day, who shot to fame as a singer with drummer Gene Krupa's swing band in the early 1940s and became one of the most distinctive voices in the history of jazz, died Thursday. She was 87.
Ms. O'Day died of cardiac arrest in a convalescent hospital in West Los Angeles, according to her manager, Robbie Cavalina. Born in Chicago on Dec. 18, 1919, she was still a relatively unknown singer in jazz joints in Chicago when Krupa hired her as his $40-a-week vocalist in 1941.
She was born Anita Belle Colton. Her father left when she was 1; her mother worked in a meatpacking plant. An only child, Ms. O'Day began singing as a young girl in church during summer visits to her grandparents in Kansas City.
Billed as the Jezebel of Jazz by the early 1950s, Ms. O'Day titled her 1981 autobiography "High Times Hard Times." She described backroom abortions, a nervous breakdown, two failed marriages, jail time for drug possession and more than a decade-long addiction to heroin that nearly killed her with an overdose in 1966.
"She was a wild chick, all right, but how she could sing!" Krupa once said.
As a result of having her uvula (the small, fleshy part of the soft palate that hangs down above the back of the tongue) accidentally cut off by a doctor during a tonsillectomy at age 7, Ms. O'Day had no vibrato and was unable to hold notes.
"I'm not a singer; I'm a song stylist," she said in a 1989 interview with The New York Times. "I'm not a singer because I have no vibrato . . . . If I want one, I have to shake my head to get it. That's why I sing so many notes--so you won't hear that I haven't got one."
Ms. O'Day scored one of the Krupa's band's greatest hits with "Let Me Off Uptown" in 1941.
Named "New Star of the Year" by Down Beat magazine, Ms. O'Day's other hits with the Krupa band included "Alreet," "Kick It" and "Bolero at the Savoy."
After leaving Krupa, she was a vocalist with Stan Kenton's band from 1944 to 1945; her most popular recording with him was the million-selling "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine."
A memorable appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, in which she sang nine songs including "Sweet Georgia Brown," added to her stature as a jazz legend.
Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune