This week on Afterglow we note the passing of a legendary jazz vocalist, Anita O’Day, who died on Thanksgiving Day 2006 at the age of 87.
O’Day began her career as a dancer in Depression walkathons, then moved on to the 1940s world of big-band singing, where she became a star in Gene Krupa’s orchestra, scoring a smash hit with the song “Let Me Off Uptown” (which also earned notoriety in then-segregated America for its vocal wordplay between the white O’Day and black trumpeter Roy Eldridge).
She went on to record other swing-era hits with Krupa and Stan Kenton and made a stunning series of small-group and big-band albums for jazz impresario Norman Granz in the 1950s. Her vo-cool style influenced a whole school of singers that included June Christy and Chris Connor.
Drug busts and a long-running heroin addiction darkened O’Day’s image, leading the press to dub her “the Jezebel of Jazz.” Her 1981 autobiography, High Times Hard Times , details her personal struggles and her overwhelming love of music. Passionate and hard-living even as she performed into her final years, O’Day is routinely ranked among the all-time greats of vocal jazz. In this program we’ll hear many of her classic recordings from the 1940s and 50s, as well as excerpts from an interview I did with her in 2003. “Anita O’Day: Remembering the Boogie Ride” airs Friday, December 1 at 10:05 EST on WFIU.
(Note: the Frank Sinatra V-disc program scheduled for this week will be broadcast on Friday, January 5 instead.)