MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “MOONGLOW”
Welcome to Afterglow, I’m your host, Mark Chilla.
This week, I’m turning my spotlight onto two underrated female singers who first emerged onto the jazz scene in the late 1950s: Ethel Ennis and Lorez Alexandria. Neither singer really had her chance in the spotlight, and through no fault of their own. Each singer possessed immense talent, and produced several albums filled with marvelous interpretations of the American Songbook. I’ll explore some of those recordings this hour, highlighting their soulful and nuanced jazz style that made them great.
It’s the Underrated Lorez Alexandria and Ethel Ennis, coming up next on Afterglow
MUSIC - LOREZ ALEXANDRIA, “ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE”
MUSIC - ETHEL ENNIS, “ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE”
Two versions of the Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe song “Almost Like Being In Love.” from the musical Brigadoon. Just now, we heard Ethel Ennis, off of her 1964 RCA album Eyes For You. Before that, Lorez Alexandria, off of her 1962 Argo album Deep Roots.
MUSIC CLIP - STAN GETZ, “LITTLE GIRL BLUE”
Mark Chilla here on Afterglow. On this show, we're exploring two underrated jazz singers, Ethel Ennis and Lorez Alexandria. I'll start with Ennis.
Ethel Ennis was born in Baltimore in 1932 and started her career as a pianist, before turning her attention to singing. By 18, she was singing professionally in Philadelphia, and soon began working up and down the east coast before landing a record deal with Jubilee Records in 1955, a label mostly known for R&B.
Her one and only album for Jubilee, called Ethel Ennis Sings Lullabies For Losers, features the great Hank Jones on piano, and features Ennis crooning a number of sad ballads, most of them little remembered and rarely performed. Let’s hear the title track from that album now.
Here is Ethel Ennis late in 1955 with Robert Stringer’s “Lullaby For Losers,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ETHEL ENNIS, “LULLABY FOR LOSERS”
Ethel Ennis with “Lullaby for Losers,” the title song from her 1956 album for Jubilee records.
In 1957, Ethel Ennis was signed to Capitol Records, the same label that, at the time, was the home of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, and Peggy Lee. She recorded two LPs for the label, Change Of Scenery in 1957 and Have You Forgotten in 1958.
Let’s hear a few tracks from that first LP now. On Change Of Scenery, Neal Hefti was the musical director, and the songs contained a collection of jazz standards and torch ballads.
Here is Ethel Ennis in 1957 with the Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg’s “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ETHEL ENNIS, “HAPPINESS IS A THING CALLED JOE”
MUSIC - ETHEL ENNIS, “THRILL ME”
Two songs with lyrics by Yip Harburg, sung by Ethel Ennis on her 1957 album Change Of Scenery. Just now, the Harburg and Lewis Gensler song “Thrill Me,” and before that, the Harburg and Arlen song “Happiness Is A Thing Called Joe.”
Let’s hear now a little more of an upbeat number from her second Capitol Record, 1958’s Have You Forgotten. This LP had arrangements by Capitol arranger Sid Feller, who had worked with Dakota Staton, Dean Martin, and more, and who later became known for his arrangements with Ray Charles.
Here is Ethel Ennis and Sid Feller with yet another Yip Harburg song. This is “Then I’ll Be Tired Of You,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ETHEL ENNIS, “THEN I’LL BE TIRED OF YOU”
Ethel Ennis in 1958 with “Then I’ll Be Tired Of You,” a Yip Harburg and Arthur Schwartz song recorded for her Capitol album Have You Forgotten.
After recording this LP, Ethel Ennis took a long hiatus from recording. She spent that time singing with Benny Goodman’s Orchestra as they toured Europe. In the mid 1960s, she entered the studio again, this time for RCA Records, creating several albums of jazz and pop standards. Her late career including an album for Savoy in the 1990s, plus a friendship with Nixon’s vice president (and fellow Baltimore native) Spiro Agnew. She ended up singing the national anthem at Nixon’s second inauguration, despite not necessarily sharing his political beliefs. Ennis passed away at age 86 in 2019.
Here now is a record from one of her RCA Records, the 1964 album Eyes For You, a beautiful rendition of an old Rodgers and Hart standard.
Here is Ethel Ennis with “Little Girl Blue,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - ETHEL ENNIS, “LITTLE GIRL BLUE”
Ethel Ennis in 1964 with Rodgers and Hart’s “Little Girl Blue.” That comes from her RCA album Eyes For You.
MUSIC CLIP - GENE AMMONS, “LITTLE GIRL BLUE”
Coming up in just a moment, we’ll hear from another underrated jazz singer from the late 50s and early 1960s, the Chicago-native Lorez Alexandria. Stay with us.
I’m Mark Chilla, and you’re listening to Afterglow
MUSIC CLIP - OSCAR PETERSON, “HAPPINESS IS A THING CALLED JOE”
MUSIC CLIP - LESTER YOUNG, “TOO MARVELOUS FOR WORDS”
Welcome back to Afterglow, I’m Mark Chilla. We’ve been exploring a few underrated black female vocalists from the late 1950s this hour, and I want to turn my attention now to Lorez Alexandria.
Lorez Alexandria was born in Chicago in 1929, and while she got her start singing gospel music, she soon turned to jazz, where her expressive voice truly flourished. It took her until the mid 1960s before she signed to a major label—the Impulse jazz label, but in the 1950s, she spent time recording for independent labels like King and Argo.
Her first album for the King label was not a regular studio recording, but rather a, quote, “late session at an intimate club.” This live record from 1957 was called Lorez Sings Pres, a tribute to tenor saxophonist Lester Young. Young was still alive, but his heavy drinking meant his career was on the decline. On the record, Alexandria records a few songs that Young had performed with his former musical partner Billie Holiday. And let’s hear one of those songs now.
Here now is Lorez Alexandria in 1957 performing a song that Billie Holiday and Lester Young made famous 20 years earlier. This is Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin’s “Easy Living,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LOREZ ALEXANDRIA, “EASY LIVING”
MUSIC - LOREZ ALEXANDRIA, “ANGEL EYES”
Lorez Alexandria from her 1960 album for King Records called Standards With A Slight Touch Of Jazz, aka Lorez Alexandria Singing Songs That Everyone Knows. That was the Matt Dennis and Earl Brent song “Angel Eyes.” Before that, from her 1957 album Lorez Sings Pres, we heard “Easy Living,” a song made famous by Lester “Pres” Young and Billie Holiday in 1937. A few years after this tribute to Lester Young, in 1959, he passed away, as did Billie Holiday.
By the early 1960s, Lorez Alexandria moved from the King Record label to Argo Records, another label based out of her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. For this label, she continued to record jazz standards, but also added to her style more of a bluesy swing, that wasn’t aggressive or heartbreaking, but rather light and lithe.
Here is Lorez Alexandria in 1960, from her album Early In The Morning for Argo Records. This is the Buddy Johnson blues song “Baby, Don’t You Cry,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LOREZ ALEXANDRIA, “BABY DON’T YOU CRY”
MUSIC - LOREZ ALEXANDRIA, “SOFTLY, AS IN A MORNING SUNRISE”
“Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise,” a song by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein. That was Lorez Alexandria from her 1962 album Deep Roots, recorded for Argo Records. Before that, we heard the blues song “Baby Don’t You Cry,” from Alexandria’s 1960 Argo album Early In The Morning.
In the early 1960s, Lorez Alexandria had moved out to Los Angeles, where she was signed by Creed Taylor’s Impulse jazz label. There, she made arguably her two best albums: Alexandria The Great and More Of The Great, both recorded in 1964. Arranger Tutti Camarata produced the records, which featured several members of Miles Davis’s former band in the rhythm section, like Wynton Kelly on piano and Paul Chambers on bass.
Here’s a track from that first record now. This song is one of the less well-remembered songs from the Lerner and Loewe musical My Fair Lady. Here is Lorez Alexandria in 1964 with “Show Me,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LOREZ ALEXANDRIA, “SHOW ME”
Lorez Alexandria in 1964 with “Show Me,” a song from the 1956 musical My Fair Lady. That comes from her album Alexandria The Great, for Impulse Records.
After she recorded for Impulse in the mid 1960s, Lorez Alexandria’s output leveled off significantly. Over the next 25 years of her career, she recorded about as much as she recorded in her first seven years. She had a few recordings for some jazz specialty labels, like Discovery and Muse, but few of these recordings lived up to her work for Impulse in the mid 1960s.
To close off this hour, let’s hear something from her final album for Impulse, 1964’s More of The Great. This is Lorez Alexandria with the marvelous Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke song “But Beautiful,” on Afterglow.
MUSIC - LOREZ ALEXANDRIA, “BUT BEAUTIFUL”
MUSIC - LOREZ ALEXANDRIA, “DANCING ON THE CEILING”
The Rodgers and Hart song “Dancing On The Ceiling,” and before that, the Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke song “But Beautiful.” Both of those come from the 1964 Impulse album More of the Great, sung by the great Lorez Alexandria.
Thanks for tuning in to this look at the stylings of Ethel Ennis and Lorez Alexandria on Afterglow.
MUSIC CLIP - STAN GETZ, “BUT BEAUTIFUL”
Afterglow is part of the educational mission of Indiana University and produced by WFIU Public Radio in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana. The executive producer is John Bailey.
Playlists for this and other Afterglow programs are available on our website. That’s at indianapublicmedia.org/afterglow.
I’m Mark Chilla, and join me next week for our mix of Vocal Jazz and popular song from the Great American Songbook, here on Afterglow