Blossom Dearie's wispy vocals, classic repertoire, and quick wit have combined to make her a distinct stylist for over 50 years. Lacking the vocal prowess of Ella Fitzgerald and the range of Sarah Vaughan, Dearie made the most of her delicate voice by incorporating elements of cabaret into her style. She further strengthened her approach by relying on ballads borrowed from the classic songbooks of the Gershwins and Rodgers and Hart, along with humorous songs by newer writers like Dave Frishberg. Dearie has also gaineded converts due to her feisty, humorous personality. When performing in nightclubs, her contracts insist that no food or drinks be served during her performance. Although her endearing traits have never made her rich and famous, they have nevertheless spawned a small coterie of dedicated fans that includes Marlon Brando, Raymond Burr, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Dearie was born on April 28, 1926, in East Durham, New York, a town located 20 miles from Albany in the Catskill Mountains. Her father came from a Scotch-Irish background and worked as a bartender; her mother had emigrated from Oslo, Sweden, as a small girl. Blossom Dearie received her unusual name when a neighbor brought peach blossoms to the Dearie home on the day of their daughter's birth. From the age of two, she showed an interest in music, sitting on her mother's lap at the piano. A year later she had decided to become a musician.
Dearie began her first piano lessons at five. At ten, while living with her stepbrother in Washington, D.C., she received instruction in the classical compositions of Bach and Chopin. Her progress impressed her teacher, who recommended that she study classical music at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. She returned to East Durham, however, and dropped her classical studies. Dearie was introduced to jazz for the first time while playing in a high school band and knew she had found her life's calling. She absorbed the music of bandleaders Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and she admired Martha Tilton, who sang for the Benny Goodman orchestra. When Dearie finished high school in the mid-1940s, she moved to New York City.
In New York Dearie moved into an apartment with several other girls and started singing with various bands. At first she performed with the Blue Flames, a group within Woody Herman's big band, and then with the Blue Reyes, a part of the Alvino Rey band. She became a regular at Gil Evans's Manhattan apartment, where she met the cream of New York's jazz crop: Charlie Parker, Woody Herman, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Gerry Mulligan. Dearie continued to build her career singing at the Chantilly Club in Greenwich Village and other nightspots. In 1952 she met one of the owners of Barclay Records, Nicole Barclay; she encouraged Dearie to travel to Paris and to take advantage of the strong interest in American jazz there.
In Paris, she joined the Blue Stars, an eight-member vocal group that consisted of four males and four females. Although a number of barriers, including language differences, finally dissolved the group, the Blue Stars did record a hit version of "Lullaby at Birdland." The group appeared on French television and received offers to perform in the United States. When several members were unable to obtain passports, however, the opportunity fell through, and Dearie decided to leave the group. Despite the frustration, Dearie's stay in Paris had been productive. She had met English singer Annie Ross (later a member of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross) while working at the Mars Club, and the two would later collaborate. She also met Norman Granz, the owner of Verve Records, and signed a contract to record six albums for the label.
When Dearie returned to the United States in 1956, she decided to continue her career as a solo artist. She occasionally appeared on the Tonight Show with host Jack Paar and befriended Miles Davis while working at the Village Vanguard. She worked at the Versailles nightclub in New York and started recording what became a group of classic albums for Verve. The series began with Blossom Dearie in 1956 and ended with My Gentleman Friend in 1961. In the words of John Bush of the All Music Guide, "Blossom Dearie's first three records for Verve—all masterpieces—displayed an artist with an uncommon ability to transfer a well-worn standard into a new song …" Speaking of her selection of material, Dearie told Tony Vellela of the Christian Science Monitor that "I choose material that I like. The music has to be of a certain standard. If the music is no good, I'm not interested in the song."
Dearie recorded less frequently during the 1960s, though she continued to perform regularly. In 1966 she began traveling to London once a year to play at Ronnie Scott's, a popular English nightclub. In 1974 Dearie received praise for Blossom Dearie Sings, the first album released on her new label, Daffodil. She performed in the Jazz Singers program at Carnegie Hall with singers Anita O'Day and Joe Williams in 1975, and in 1976 her friend Johnny Mercer wrote his last song, "My New Celebrity Is You," for her. Recalling her songwriting collaboration with Mercer on "I'm Shadowing You," Dearie told Vellela, "I wonder why we didn't write more songs together."
In 1983 Dearie became the first recipient of the Mabel Mercer Foundation Award, a cash prize of $1500, and in 1993, she performed at the White House with Shirley Horn, Bobby Short, and Mandy Patinkin. "I'm wondering if Bill [President Bill Clinton] is going to want to play the saxophone," Dearie told Jeff Simon of the Buffalo News. "If he does, I guess I'll have to go along with it." During the 1980s and 1990s, Dearie continued to perform in New York and London, cities that were home to her most dedicated fan base.
For the Record . . .
Born on April 28, 1926, in East Durham, NY.
Joined Blue Flames vocal group with Woody Herman's big band and the Blue Reys with the Alvino Rey band, 1940s; relocated to Europe, early 1950s; joined the Blue Stars and recorded hit version of "Lullaby at Bird-land"; returned to the United States, 1956; recorded a series of albums for Verve Records, 1956-61; pursued solo career, 1956–; formed Daffodil Records, mid-1970s; performed at Carnegie Hall "Jazz Singers" concert, 1975; performed at White House, 1993.
Awards: Mabel Mercer Foundation Award, 1983.
Addresses: Record company— Universal Records, 1755 Broadway, 7th Fl., New York, NY 10019, phone: (212) 373-0600, website: http://www.universalrecords.com/.
Numerous stories exist that tell of Dearie's peculiar sense of humor. Once, following a live set, she was approached by a group of college students. The young men, who had enjoyed her music, asked whether they could buy her a drink and share her company for a little while longer. Without so much as a pause, Dearie told them no, but she'd be glad to take them all to dinner, which she did. She has also continued to win over critics over the years, upholding the same high performance standards that charmed audiences from the beginning of her career. "The high-pitched and sweet child's voice with which she's always sung and that can't really be categorized by standard vocal measurements does not age." wrote David Finkle in Back Stage, "When she skips merrily through her repertoire, she sounds exactly as she has for close to 50 years."
Blossom Dearie, Verve, 1956.
Once Upon a Summertime, Verve, 1958.
Give Him the Ooh-La-La, Verve, 1958.
Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green, Verve, 1959.
My Gentleman Friend, Verve, 1961.
May I Come In?, Blue Note, 1964.
Blossom Dearie Sings, Daffodil, 1973.
Blossom's Planet, Daffodil, 2000.
The Diva Series, Verve, 2003.
Back Stage, May 25, 2001, p. 13.
Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY), November 1, 1993, p. B1.
Christian Science Monitor, June 29, 2001, p. 18.
"My Gentleman Friend, " All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (November 10, 2003).
—Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
"Dearie, Blossom." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dearie-blossom
"Dearie, Blossom." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/dearie-blossom
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