Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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O'DAY, Anita

(b Anita Belle Cotton, 18 March 1919, Chicago IL; d 23 November 2006, Los Angleles CA) Singer. One of the few true jazz vocalists, her unique and up-to-date phrasing influencing many imitators and winning approval of both white and black jazz fraternities. Along with very few others (such as Leo Watson, who briefly preceded her with Gene Krupa's band) she invented a new kind of singing, unafraid to subvert the musical and verbal texts into a quasi-instrumental style: it was still singing, but a new way to do it. For example, on Art Ford's Jazz Party, a TV show, she sang 'Let's Fall In Love' as if in 2/2, stressing the notes that fell on every two beats instead of every four, making the song more of a swinger, and trading fours with the guitarist and the pianist, everybody obviously having a ball.

She had participated in dance marathons as a teenager and sang with the Max Miller combo in 1939 in Chicago; fame with Gene Krupa 1941-3 began with hits 'Just A Little Bit South Of North Carolina', 'Georgia On My Mind', 'Let Me Off Uptown' (a duet with Roy Eldridge), also 'Thanks For The Boogie Ride' and 'The Walls Keep Talking' with Eldridge, 'Two In Love' with Johnny Desmond, 'Bolero At The Savoy' etc. She joined Stan Kenton, sang on that band's first big hit 'And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine' '44; recommended her replacement Shirley Luster when she left, and Kenton changed Luster's name to June Christy: Christy and Chris Connor were O'Day's principal acolytes. Back with Krupa for hits 'Chickery Chick' and 'Boogie Blues' '45, as well as Sy Oliver's powerful arrangement of 'Opus 1'. She worked solo, did guest spots with Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, recorded for Bob Thiele's Signature label with Will Bradley, Ralph Burns, Benny Carter, Alvy West and the Little Band (a small group with accordion, a hip sound briefly successful on radio; they also recorded with Frank Sinatra), these later compiled on CD as I Told Ya I Love Ya, Now Get Out incl. 'Hi Ho Trailus Boot Whip', a top 30 hit '47. A fearless stylist, her cover of Patti Page's hit 'Tennesee Waltz' '51 charted on London at more or less the same time she was broadcasting with Tadd Dameron from the Royal Roost.

A long association with Norman Granz began '52: albums (mostly on Verve) included Sings Jazz '52 with Burns, Roy Kral combo, etc, Songs By Anita O'Day '54-5 with her own combos; Anita (aka This Is Anita) and Pick Yourself Up '55-6 with Buddy Bregman; Drummer Man '56 (a reunion with Krupa and Eldridge); Anita Sings The Most '57 with Oscar Peterson (Sings For Oscar); At Mr Kelly's with combo and Sings The Winners with the Russ Garcia and Marty Paich bands '58. (Studio stalwart Garcia also recorded with Oscar Peterson, Julie London and many others; fell in love with New Zealand on a visit and retired there: d 19 November 2011 aged 95). Further O'Day albums were Swings Cole Porter with Billy May and Cool Heat with Jimmy Giuffre '59, Anita O'Day And Billy May Swing Rodgers And Hart and Waiter, Make Mine Blues with Garcia and Incomparable! with Bill Holman, all '60; Trav'lin' Light with Johnny Mandel and All The Sad Young Men with Gary McFarland '61, Time For Two with Cal Tjader, Anita O'Day And The Three Sounds (see Gene Harris) '62.

Despite all this recording her career was slipping; for a long time she had drunk too much, then drank very little while she was on heroin for eight years (autobiography High Times Hard Times '81 with George Eells pulls no punches). She came back still swinging to find fans still waiting: she put out Anita O'Day and Once Upon A Summertime on her own AOD label (later on Glendale), she recorded live at the Berlin Festival '70 (In Berlin on Pausa); made an unissued album with Dave Frishberg '75; there were first-class tours of Japan, six LPs issued there mid-'70s including Live In Tokyo, My Ship, Live At Mingos and Angel Eyes '75-8 which also came out on her own Emily label, named after her dog. There's Only One '78 on Dobre was followed by Mello'Day '79 on GNP/Crescendo, with a septet including Lou Levy on piano and Laurindo Almeida, her most well-planned album for years. Live At The City and Second Set '79 came out on Emily, as did The Night Has A Thousand Eyes (probably the same album as Misty '81 on Japanese Lobster with Don Abney on piano), and S'Wonderful '85 with a Hank Jones big band. In A Mellow Tone '89 and At Vine Street Live '91 were on DRG; there were other albums and reissues on Moon, Evidence etc. She made soundies and short films with Krupa and Kenton '41-56, appeared in The Gene Krupa Story '59 as herself, also in Jazz On A Summer's Day '60 (film of '58 Newport Festival), played singers in Zigzag (aka False Witness) '70 and The Outfit '74.