Singer Anita O'Day turned 87 in October but passed away last Thursday morning, November 23rd, 2006 from cardiac arrest while battling pneumonia. The Chicago native started singing in Gene Krupa's band in 1941, which helped heighten the 23-year-old singer's profile, and her fame grew after a hit performance of "Let Me Off Uptown" with Roy Eldridge (who was hired by Krupa shortly after her). Their presence and chemistry drew more ears to Krupa's band. After a stint with Stan Kenton and returning to Krupa, her own career began with 1955's Anita, which was the first album released on Verve Records.
Over the course of the '50s and '60s, the height of her career, she battled with drug addiction and suffered an overdose that nearly took her life in 1966. She kicked her habit cold turkey and resumed working, and in 1981 she published her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times. There should be a release of a documentary on her life, "Anita O'Day: the Life of a Jazz Singer," in the near future.
She was always lauded for her unique feeling of swing. Her phrasing was so personal it could almost be considered idiosyncratic. Her voice was slightly husky but also lilting and unadorned. Apparently, a doctor who performed a tonsillectomy on her in her youth had accidentally cut her uvula, which meant that she could not sustain long notes or use vibrato.
Accounts from other interviews in the LA Times:
In a 1981 Newsweek article on O'Day, writer Charles Michener observed: "The dynamic range of her voice may be smaller than any other jazz singer's except Blossom Dearie's, but her flexibility with it allows her to scat, slide and skitter through a song the way a cat's tongue laps up milk."But she was always herself, and that was more than enough -- elegant, resilient, feisty and swinging.
The same year, O'Day told the Christian Science Monitor: "When you haven't got that much voice, you have to use all the cracks and the crevices and the black and the white keys. That's all the range I've got. I'm no Lily Pons or Sarah Vaughan."
"Sweet Georgia Brown" (1958, live at the Newport Jazz Festival)
"Tea for Two" (1958, live at Newport Jazz Festival)
"Thanks for the Boogie Ride" (with Gene Krupa and Roy Eldridge in 1942)
More are available here.
Some recommended listening:
Anita O'Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May
Anita Sings the Most
This Is Anita (the reissue of her debut album)
Time for 2 (with Cal Tjader)