Anita O' Day, one of the last great surviving jazz singers of the Big Band era, passed away this morning at her home in West Los Angeles. She was 86 years old.
From her website:
Indestructible. There is really no other word to describe Anita O’Day. Her legacy in the world of music goes back to the mid-30s as a singing-dance competitor in the popular walkathons of the day—that is, until a truant officer returned her to school. When asked her name, she answered “O’Day,”pig Latin for dough. Which she hoped to make a bunch of. She was soon discovered by a club owner in Chicago, and within a year destiny would guide her right to the top as the lead singer for the Gene Krupa Orchestra. Anita brought to the big band her own swinging style. She had no use for gowns; she was a member of the band who’s instrument was her voice, so she donned the same uniform that the other band members wore—a suit. She stayed with Krupa’s outfit for five years, then after one year with Stan Kenton, scoring numerous hits for both. She began her solo career in 1947.
From the Washington Post obit:
Her vibrant appearance in the 1959 documentary "Jazz on a Summer's Day," a film about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, made her an international celebrity and brought her important dates in Japan and England.
Then, in 1966, she nearly died of a heroin overdose in a bathroom in a Los Angeles office building. The experience rattled her, and she quit heroin at once. Most of her money gone, she spent the rest of her life struggling financially.
In the early 1970s, she was living in a $3-a-night hotel in Los Angeles but she revived her career over the next decade, culminating in a profile of her on the CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes."
She received her first Grammy nomination in 1990 for "In a Mellow Tone" and was given an American Jazz Masters award in 1997 by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Anita will forever be remembered for the clingy black dress, fringed black hat and white gloves that she wore in the film. Ironically, she later candidly confessed that she had absolutely no recollection of her performance at Newport. Years of alcohol and drug abuse robbed her of many things including the memories of her most prosperous years. Still, she survived the needle, the bottle, two rotten marriages, depression, and dire financial straits, continuing to perform (though often precariously) well into her 80's.
Here is Anita singing a remake her big hit "Let Me Off Uptown" with Roy Eldridge and the Gene Krupa big band, from Krupa's 1956 Verve album "Drummin' Man": Download gene_krupaanita_odayroy_eldridge_let_me_off_uptown.mp3
Here is a nice video tribute to Anita, which includes a segment of her performance of "Sweet Georgia Brown" from Jazz On A Summer's Day.
Here is a young Anita performing "Thanks For The Boogie Ride" with the Gene Krupa big band in 1942. Roy Eldridge is the trumpet man.
This is the classic performance of "Tea For Two" from Jazz for A Summer's Day. The old timers might recognize the old Marlboro cigarettes jingle that pops up at the end, as Anita trades phrases with her pianist. (You get a lot to like in a Marlboro - filter, flavor, flip-top box)
All About Jazz published this profile of Anita just a few days ago.
So long Anita. It sure was groovy.