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Remembering Ethel Ennis 1932-2019

The jazz queen of Baltimore never became a national star but was beloved by connoisseurs far and wide

Ethel Ennis
Ethel Ennis (Photo: courtesy of RCA Records)

There was a moment in 1965 when Ethel Ennis looked like the next big female vocalist in jazz. Ennis, who died Sunday (Feb. 17) at her Baltimore, Md., home of complications from a stroke, had a record contract with RCA, and she’d already performed with the likes of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Benny Goodman. She had a lustrous soprano and a nimble way around a lyric and a scat solo.

The stardom never came, and Ennis never regretted it. She gave up the international career and settled into her role as the jazz queen of her hometown, Baltimore. She continued to perform into her early eighties (she was 86 when she died). True, she never achieved the fame of fellow Baltimorean Billie Holiday, but she never suffered through drug addiction and bad marriages either. Who’s to say that’s a bad choice?

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