Born: April 28, 1926 | Died: February 7, 2009 Primary Instrument: Piano
Born 28 April 1928, East Durham, New York, USA. A singer, pianist and songwriter, with a wispy, little-girlish voice, Dearie is regarded as one of the great supper club singers. Her father was of Scottish and Irish descent; her mother emigrated from Oslo, Norway. Dearie is said to have been given her unusual first name after a neighbour brought peach blossoms to her house on the day she was born. She began taking piano lessons when she was five, and studied classical music until she was in her teens, when she played in her high school dance band and began to listen to jazz. Early influences included Art Tatum, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Martha Tilton, who sang with the Benny Goodman band. Dearie graduated from high school in the mid-40s and moved to New York City to pursue a music career. She joined the Blue Flames, a vocal group within the Woody Herman big band, and then sang with the Blue Reys, a similar formation in the Alvino Rey band.
In 1952, while working at the Chantilly Club in Greenwich Village, Dearie met Nicole Barclay who, with her husband, owned Barclay Records. At her suggestion she went to Paris and formed a vocal group, the Blue Stars. The group consisted of four male singers/instrumentalists, and four female singers; Dearie contributed many of the arrangements. They had a hit in France and the USA with one of their first recordings, a French version of Lullaby Of Birdland. While in Paris, Dearie met impresario and record producer Norman Granz, who signed her to Verve Records, for whom she eventually made six solo albums, including the highly regarded My Gentleman Friend.
Unable to take the Blue Stars to the USA because of passport problems (they later evolved into the Swingle Singers), she returned to New York and resumed her solo career, singing to her own piano accompaniment at New York nightclubs such as the Versailles, the Blue Angel and the Village Vanguard. She also appeared on US television with Jack Paar, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson. In 1966 she made the first of what were to become annual appearances at Ronnie Scott's Club in London, receiving excellent reviews as a singer's singer, whose most important asset was her power to bring a personal interpretation to a song, while showing the utmost respect for a composer's intentions. In the '60s she also made some albums for Capitol Records, including May I Come In?, a set of standards arranged and conducted by Jack Marshall.
In the early '70s, disillusioned by the major record companies' lack of interest in her kind of music, she started her own company, Daffodil Records, in 1974. Her first album for the label, Blossom Dearie Sings, was followed by a two-record set entitled My New Celebrity Is You, which contained eight of her own compositions. The album's title song was especially written for her by Johnny Mercer, and is said to be the last piece he wrote before his death in 1976. During the '70s Dearie performed at Carnegie Hall with former Count Basie blues singer Joe Williams and jazz vocalist Anita O'Day in a show called The Jazz Singers. In 1981 she appeared with Dave Frishberg for three weeks at Michael's Pub in Manhattan. Frishberg, besides being a songwriter, also sang and played the piano, and Dearie frequently performed his songs, such as Peel Me A Grape, I'm Hip and My Attorney Bernie. Her own compositions include I Like You, You're Nice, I'm Shadowing You and Hey John. From 1983, she performed regularly for six months a year at the Ballroom, a nightclub in Manhattan, and in 1985 was the first recipient of the Mabel Mercer Foundation Award, which is presented annually to an outstanding supper-club performer.
Appreciated mostly in New York and London, where she appeared several times in the late '80s/early '90s at the Pizza On The Park, Dearie, with her intimate style and unique voice, remains one of the few survivors of a specialized art.