In the summer of 1994 in Washington D.C., jazz vocalist Karen Francis was discovered by world renown jazz master (pianist, composer, record label executive, producer, and professor) Stanley Cowell.
Cowell, one of jazz music's most talented architects who, with Charles Tolliver in 1971, established and launched Strata-East Records, was hosting a party in his home one evening when he had occasion to be introduced to Francis by one of his students - William Knowles. A significant turn of events during the course of the evening revealed that Karen was a singer and Cowell invited her to sit in with him at an impromptu jam session....
Karen Francis is a force of nature. She blows in like a gale-force wind on Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise, and barely slows down as she powerfully redefines jazz vocals with standards and originals. Better Days is one of the best vocal jazz albums released this year. Let us hope there are many more to come.
-C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz
Think back to the early Capitol days of Nancy Wilson. Now imagine what would’ve happened if the purposefully buttoned-up Nancy had loosened her stays just a little. Result? Stanley Cowell protégé Karen Francis. That Francis sounds like the young Wilson is undeniable. Close your eyes, and you’ll find it almost impossible to tell them apart. But there’s a funky ebullience that underscores Francis’ silky warmth throughout the stunningly good Better Days (Virgo Rising).
-Christopher Louden, Jazz Times
[Her] ballads radiate a sincerity and soulfulness that stem from Francis' unaffected interpretations.
-The Washington Post on “ Mandara Blossoms
If you've never heard of singer Karen Francis, you owe it to yourself to get acquainted with her and consider this recording (Where Is Love?) your engraved invitation. Her ballads tug at you as she sings with a genuine passion, and her cookers lighten your load and make you smile. You want effortless delivery? Then listen to the opening I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, a tune that Karen nails, singing it with a sense of despair but with a glimmer of hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
- Jazz Quarterly
Who is that?! Have you heard her before?!
- Downbeat Magazine
A young American singer with enormous charm and potential. If Francis never gets any better than this, she will go far. I suspect that she will move on and up.
- Brian Davis, Jazz Journal
Little Sunflower will serve to further spread the word about this immensely gifted young lady, who is progressing by leaps and bounds, yet has her feed planted firmly on the ground.
- The Blackwell Guide to Recorded Jazz
The relaxed, conversational intimacy of her style is delivered with innate confidence. She confronts the challenge of slow ballad standards with tact and rare taste. Francis hints at limitless potential; the intimate timbre of her voice is matched by a sophisticated, low-key approach that indicates she understands the drama of restraint.
- Cadence Magazine
...many of these singers are well worth seeking out, either in person, on record: Tony Bennett, Carmen Bradford, Jay Clayton, Ethel Ennis, Karen Francis, Aretha Franklin, Astrud Gilberto...
- Singing Jazz: The Singers and their Styles
Often compared to Nancy Wilson and Dinah Washington, her tonal quality is more reminiscent of Sarah Vaughan - with the relaxed quality of a diva.
- Pure Jazz Magazine