Karen Francis

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.

They played two duets together - Round Midnight and Lush Life. Once Cowell heard her sing, he knew that this was a voice that would go places and decided to record her. After becoming acquainted with her, Cowell discovered that Francis was relatively new to singing, but not so new to music, as she had played several instruments while in high school in Augusta, Georgia and at Tuskegee University in Alabama.

A few short weeks after his discovery of this extraordinary talent, Cowell gave Francis her first professional recording opportunity and introduction to the international jazz community through an invitation to be a featured artist on a coming project “Mandara Blossoms”. Overwhelmed, nervous, and honored, Karen accepted and in October of ’94, her first efforts as a featured recording artist were committed to history on record in the SteepleChase Records catalogue. This recording featured Cowell on piano, tenor saxophonist Billy Pierce, and drummer Ralph Peterson.

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Album Review
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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

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Album Better Days by Karen Francis

Better Days

Virgo Rising Records


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