Shirley Horn Biography

1 May 1934, Washington, DC, USA, d. 20 October 2005, Cheverly, Maryland, USA. After studying piano formally, Horn continued her musical education at Howard University. She began leading her own group in the mid-50s, and in the early 60s recorded several sessions for Mercury Records, often in company with front-rank bop musicians. For some years Horn spent much of her time in Europe where her cabaret-orientated performances went down especially well. Nevertheless, this absence from the USA tended to conceal her talent, something her return to the recording studios in the 80s, after taking an extended hiatus to raise her family, began to correct. This return, aided by the urging of journalist-record producer Joel Siegel, led to numerous albums, all worthy of careful attention not only from audiences but also from other singers, contemporaries and newcomers, many of whom have expressed their respect and admiration.

Although Horn’s piano playing was of the highest order most attention focused upon her attractive singing. Interpreting the best of the Great American Song Book in a breathy personal manner, Horn continued to perform and struck up a rewarding association with Verve Records. Her mid-90s album The Main Ingredient was an interesting concept, creating a relaxed jam session atmosphere by having the musicians drop by her home. The album was largely recorded over five days, with Horn preparing the food for her house guests.

In the early 00s, failing health took its toll, she suffered from diabetes, and a foot was amputated. She worked on, abandoning piano playing and just singing while seated. Towards the end she was able to play a little, a prosthetic allowing her more to use the sustaining pedal of the piano. In her late years, Horn’s delivery, which had always been stately, became even more deliberate with tempos sometimes slowed down almost to stalling point. However, they never did, her artistry was too astute to allow that to happen and her recordings and concert performances were always worthy of the very highest praise.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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