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Shirley Horn (5.1.34-10.20.05)

Shirley Horn
Shirley Horn

I remember the first time I saw Ms. Horn perform. It was in the early ’90s at the Cinegrill in Los Angeles. I had heard her on the records but I had never seen her perform. I just remember she could hold people in suspended animation. I had never felt like that.

On a record, you only hear a song one way. But jazz is something different every night. Just hearing her passion that night and being able to be right there, hearing the sound and closing my eyes and being caught up with it. That was amazing.

The first Shirley Horn record I heard was an album called Loads of Love (Mercury, 1963). It was something she did a long time ago. Someone made me a cassette of the record. I think it’s an album that she didn’t even play the piano on. She was just singing.

The first Shirley Horn recording that I bought was Here’s to Life (Verve, 1991). Oh, my god, it’s my favorite record of all time. I still remember the first time I heard it and the power I felt from it. She just speaks of a life in volumes on that record. It just has so many seasons, dealing with all different aspects of love. To this day, I still listen to it. In fact, I always put it on during the first snow of the year.


Ms. Horn inspired me to really take my time. She also inspired me to really connect the harmonies with the melody so that it creates a whole different kind of feeling. Like being able to make the harmonies address the melody. But more than anything, she taught me to tell my story and take my time while I’m telling it.

In the true tradition of great jazz singers, Ms. Horn has left so much music for so many people to go through and see a life and feel a life. She sang so many songs about having a better life and looking at life more closely. She is truly one of those singers a young person goes to in order to discover a special treasure. There’s so much music for young people to really come to an understanding of an amazing musical life.

I will remember her in the spaces, in that time that it takes to get from one phrase to another. She had this ability with time. She made you want to hear the next breath, the next word or how the story was going to unfold.


When I was a young singer, it was the spaces in the music that scared me more than anything. And she took that time and made it into an art form.

Originally Published