Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


DEARIE, Blossom

(b Marguerite Dearie, 28 April 1926, East Durham NY; d 7 February 2009, Greenwich Village) Singer, pianist, songwriter. She said she got her name when a neighbor brought peach-tree blossoms to mark her birth. She played cocktail piano, accompanied vocal groups, worked with Woody Herman and Alvino Rey; worked in Paris 1952-6, at first with Annie Ross, then forming a vocal group called the Blue Stars, an ancestor of the Swingle Singers (which see). There was an album in 1954 and a hit with 'Lullaby In Birdland' sung in French. Back in the USA leading a trio, she became a favourite of cabaret audiences, proving that small gestures can be big statements when they come from a true artist. She had a high, light voice; Whitney Balliett said that without amplification it would not reach the second floor of a doll house, but with amplification it was 'surprisingly commanding.' She was also described by Terry Teachout as the hippest person in the world. She worked perfectly on the line between jazz and cabaret, her superb enunciation and intelligent interpretation, plus wit and invention (both musical and literary) in her own 30 or so songs making her a living legend.

Her albums on Verve were Blossom Dearie '56, Give Him the Ooh-La-La '57, Once Upon a Summertime '58, Sings Comden and Green '59, My Gentleman Friend '59, and Soubrette Sings Broadway Hit Songs '60, all now collectors' items. Her recording of 'I Walk A Little Faster' (by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh) from 1957 is enchanting; it was included in a compilation called New York For Lovers in 2005, and there was a Dearie compilation available on Verve at this writing; see it here. A radio commercial she made for Hires Root Beer became so popular it resulted in an album, Blossom Dearie Sings Rootin’ Songs '63 on DIW. May I Come In? was on Capitol '64; it was a pop album using a full orchestra, but she went back to her more intimate style. On the European Fontana label there were four albums, the first two live performance recordings: Blossom Time at Ronnie Scott's '66, Sweet Blossom Dearie '67, Soon It's Gonna Rain '67 and That's Just the Way I Want to Be '70.

For her own songs she collaborated with Johnny Mercer, Johnny Mandel and many others; by the late 1990s she had added the songs of Dave Frishberg to her bag ('I'm Hip', 'Peel Me A Grape'), as well as the disillusion of Sondheim's 'Ladies Who Lunch'. She started her own label, Daffodil Records, in 1974; the first album was Blossom Dearie Sings, all her own songs. 'Hey John' was written about John Lennon after she had appeared with him on British television, lyrics by Jim Council: 'Look at me digging you digging me'. 'I’m Shadowing You, one of her best, was a collaboration with Johnny Mercer. Further albums on Daffodil, now all out of print, were From The Meticulous to the Sublime '75, My New Celebrity is You '76, Winchester in Apple Blossom Time '77, Needlepoint Magic '79 (recorded live), Simply and Positively '83, Et Tu, Bruce '84 (live), Chez Wahlberg: Part One '85, Songs of Chelsea '87, Tweedledum & Tweedledee (Two People Who Resemble Each Other, in this Case Musically) '91 with Mike Renzi, Christmas Spice So Very Nice '91 and Blossom's Planet 2000. Our Favorite Songs '96 and I'm Hip '98 were compilations.

The two-disc On Broadway was on DRG Archive. For the 1970s educational cartoon TV series Schoolhouse Rock! she sang 'Figure Eight', 'Mother Necessity' and 'Unpack Your Adjectives'. She also sang obscure show music on the idiosyncratic record producer Ben Bagley's 'Revisited' series on his own Painted Smiles label. The last record she made was a single, 'It’s All Right to Be Afraid', to comfort survivors of 9/11.