Singer Anita O’Day, who possessed one of the most distinctive voices in jazz, died Thursday morning of cardiac arrest in a West Los Angeles convalescent hospital, according to her manager Robbie Cavalina. She had been battling a bout of pneumonia but was also suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. O’Day was 87.
The Jezebel of Jazz, who achieved stardom singing for Gene Krupa’s swing band in the early ’40s, was born Anita Belle Colton in Chicago on Oct. 18, 1919. Abandoned by her father when she was a year old, and with her mother working in a meatpacking plant, the only child began singing in church at an early age during summer visits to her grandparents in Kansas City. However, O’Day wasn’t blessed with a naturally angelic voice: As a result of a doctor accidentally cutting off her uvula during a tonsillectomy when she was 7, she had no vibrato and was unable to hold notes. Critic Leonard Feather later described her voice as having a “note-breaking, horn-like style and hip, husky sound.”