October 22, 2005

HERE'S TO YOU:

Mesmerizing Jazz Singer and Pianist (Adam Bernstein, October 22, 2005, Washington Post)

Shirley Horn, a smoky-voiced jazz balladeer and pianist who was resigned to being a musical fixture in her native Washington before emerging as a national presence in her fifties and winning a Grammy Award, died Thursday of complications from diabetes at Gladys Spellman Specialty Hospital and Nursing Center in Cheverly. She was 71.

With her slow, meditative ballads, Horn was one of the leading jazz singers of her generation and unquestionably was Washington's preeminent jazz musician. After reviving her dormant career in the 1980s, she made a series of triumphant concert appearances and strong-selling recordings that earned nine Grammy nominations. Her performances at the White House in 1994 and at New York's Lincoln Center in 1998 were broadcast nationally on PBS.

An uncompromising perfectionist, she worked hard to develop a personal, pensive sound. Her artistry had long depended on the interaction between voice and piano, but in 2001, Horn's right foot was amputated because of her diabetes. As a result, it was difficult for her to use the elegant pedal work that marked her piano style.

Later, she would sometimes remove the shoe from her prosthetic foot and manipulate the piano's sustain pedal with the force of her hip. In her final public appearance, in December at the Kennedy Center, she climbed from her wheelchair to the piano and performed what had become her signature song, "Here's to Life."

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 22, 2005 8:04 AM
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