Blanche Calloway was born Blanche Dorothea Jones Calloway on February 9, 1902 in Rochester, New York. Her mother was a music teacher and gave her children a passion for music. The older sister of Cab Calloway, she was a successful singer before her brother.
Influenced as a youth by Florence Mills and Ida Cox, she was encouraged to audition for a local talent scout and dropped out of Morgan College in the early 1920s to pursue her music career. Blanche made her professional debut in Baltimore in 1921 with Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle’s musical Shuffle Along but her big break came two years later on the national tour of Plantation Days. With the tour ending in Chicago, she decided to stayand gained popularity on the town’s jazz scene.
By 1925 she recorded two blues songs accompanied by Louis Armstrong and Richard M. Jones that became the first inception of her Joy Boys orchestra. She would perform with Rueben Reeves and record for Vocalion Records, work with Andy Kirk’s Clouds of Joy, and worte and recorded three songs of which her theme song would emerge, I Need Lovin’. Calloway would go on to form another Joy Boys big band with Ben Webster, Cozy Cole, Andy Kirk, Chick Webb and Zack Whythe, making her the first woman to lead an all-male jazz orchestra.
She struggled in the racially segregated and male-dominated music industry of the period, frequently played to segregated audiences and arrested for using white only restrooms on the road. While sitting in a Mississippi jail a band member stole the group’s money and she had to sell her yellow Cadillac to leave the state. Though an exceptional musician, she received few opportunities outside singer and dancer due to gender roles of the time. By the mid-1930s Calloway began to struggle to find bookings, just as her brother’s own career grew in popularity.
After years of struggling for major success, in 1938 she declared bankruptcy, broke up her orchestra and a couple of yeas later put together a short-lived all-female orchestra during World War II. Struggling once again for bookings she moved to the Philadelphia suburbs and became a socialite, served as a Democratic committeewoman, moved to Washington, DC and managed the Crystal Caverns nightclub. She hired Ruth Brown to perform and gained credit for discovering her and getting her a record deal with Atlantic Records.
In the late 1950s she moved to Florida and became a deejay for WMBM in Miami Beach, then became the program director for twenty years. She became the first Black woman to vote in Florida, was an active member of the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and served on the board of the National Urban League.
Vocalist, composer and bandleader Blanche Calloway, whose flamboyant style was a major influence on her brother Cab, eventually moved back to Baltimore, and married her high school sweetheart, passing away on December 16, 1978, from breast cancer, aged 76.
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Ottilie Patterson was born Anna Ottilie Patterson on January 31, 1932 in Comber, County Down, Northern Ireland, the youngest of four children. With both sides of the family musical, she trained as a classical pianist from the age of eleven, but never received any formal training as a singer.
In 1949 Ottilie went to study art at Belfast College of Technology where a fellow student introduced her to the music of Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton and Meade Lux Lewis. By 1951 she began singing with Jimmy Compton’s Jazz Band, and in 1952 she formed the Muskrat Ramblers with Al Watt and Derek Martin.
The summer of 1954, while on holiday in London, Ottilie met Beryl Bryden who introduced her to the Chris Barber Jazz Band. She joined the Barber band full-time in December of that year and her first public appearance was at the Royal Festival Hall the following January. Between 1955 and 1962 she extensively toured with Barber and issued many recordings both as a leader and vocalist with Barber, and whom she would marry and divorce 24 years later.
From approximately 1963 she began to suffer throat problems and ceased to appear and record regularly with her husband until officially retiring from the band in 1973. During this period she recorded some non-jazz/blues material and in 1969 issued a now sought after collectible solo LP, 3000 Years With Ottilie.
During her recording period she released nineteen singles, five EPs, four solo LPs, twenty albums with Barber, and performed on twenty-five other CD projects. Traditional jazz and blues singer Ottilie Patterson passed away June 20, 2011.
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José James was born January 20, 1978 in Minneapolis, Minnesota and has been referenced as a jazz singer for the hip-hop generation. Blending modern jazz and hip-hop, his influences come from John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye and his “musical mother” Billie Holiday.
José attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and in 2008 he released his debut album, The Dreamer, on the Brownswood label. Blackmagic followed in 2010 and the same year For All We Know came out on the Impulse label, winning both the Edison Award and L’Académie du Jazz Grand Prix for best Vocal Jazz Album of 2010. His styling on his early singles and in live performances borrowed from the soul jazz of Terry Callier and the crossover of Gil Scott-Heron to make his sound distinct.
2012 was the year James signed to Blue Note Records issuing Trouble, his first single for the label. His fourth album, No Beginning, No End, followed and he began composing while on the road, reflecting the music of Nirvana and Radiohead that he grew up with as well as newer artists like Frank Ocean and James Blake. This led him to a recording session for While You Were Sleeping, blending rock, R&B and jazz.
In commemoration of Billie Holiday’s 100th birthday, he recorded nine songs written or associated with Billie Holiday, titled Yesterday I Had The Blues and utilizing the talents of Jason Moran, John Patitucci and Eric Harland. To date he has six albums as a leader and seven collaborations with Junior Mance, Jef Neves, J.A.M., Kris Bowers and the Soil & Pimp Sessions. Vocalist José James continues to compose and perform, record and tour.
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Thelma Carpenter was born January 15, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. As a child performer she had her own radio show on WNYC in New York and won an amateur night at the Apollo Theatre in 1938. She would go on to play such 52nd Street clubs as Kell’s Stables and the Famous Door and was discovered by John Hammond.
Carpenter subsequently made her debut as a band vocalist with Teddy Wilson’s short-lived orchestra in 1939, recording Love Grows On the White Oak Tree and This Is The Moment on the Brunswick label. She joined Coleman Hawkins’ orchestra in 1940 and recorded the RCA/Bluebird Records classic album He’s Funny That Way. She followed Helen Humes as Count Basie’s vocalist and over two years recorded several sessions with the band such as More Than You Know, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me and My Ideal.
Thelma replaced Dinah Shore as vocalist on Eddie Cantor’s radio show for the 1945-46 season, marking the first time that a black artist had become a permanent member of an all-white show without playing a character. She would also sing with Duke Ellington in concerts and on television. She was a top nightclub and major theater attraction for most of her career, performing regularly at such chic clubs as Chez Bricktop in Paris and Rome and the Capitol and Palace Theater on Broadway among others.
As a Broadway performer she appeared with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, replaced Pearl Bailey in Hello Dolly!, performed along with Avon Long in Shuffle Along, co-starred in Barefoot In The Park and created the role of Irene Paige in Bubbling Brown Sugar. She toured nationally in Bob fosse’s Pippin and was the Good Witch of The North in Sidney Lumet’s film The Wiz. So in demand was she that Fosse and Lumet arranged their schedules so she could do both projects simultaneously. She was the mother of Maurice and Gregory Hines in the film The Cotton Club.
She also had a critically acclaimed album Thinking of You Tonight and Sepia Records posthumously released a 26-song compilation title Seems Like Old Times. Carpenter performed on television with Jackie Gleason, Eddie Condon, Duke Ellington, Diana Ross, Sammy Davis Jr. and Eric Clapton, as well as appearing on the Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin, Paul Lynde and Cosby shows. Jazz vocalist and actress Thelma Carpenter passed away of cardiac arrest on May 14, 1997 in New York City.
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Roger Guérin was born on January 9, 1926 in Saarbrücken, Germany and initially studied violin, followed by cornet and trumpetat the Paris Conservatory. It was there as a teenager that he won first prize.
Roger began working professionally in 1947, playing with Aime Barelli, Django Reinhardt, Don Byas, Hubert Fol, James Moody, Benny Golson, Bernard Peiffer, Fats Sadi, Lucky Thompson, Kenny Clarke, Blossom Dearie, Martial Solal, Michel Legrand and Andre Hodeir.
Playing at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival l with a youth ensemble, Guérin also played in Les Double Six in 1959, later returning to this group. He replaced Clark Terry in Quincy Jones’s Big Band in 1960. He worked on the soundtrack to the film Paris Blues in 1961 with Duke Ellington and went on to work extensively as a vocalist for Michel Legrand.
He has over 150 album credits to his name including recording with the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band, and has won the Prix Django Reinhardt in 1959. Trumpeter and vocalist Roger Guérin passed away on February 6, 2010 in Nimes, France.