Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


ROSS, Annie

(b Annabelle Macauley Allan Short, 25 July 1930, Mitcham, Surrey, England; d 21 July 2020, Manhattan) Singer, actress. Her parents were Scottish show-biz folk; she was born while they were on tour, lived in Scotland until she was four, then went to the USA to be raised by her aunt, Broadway star Ella Logan. Annie won a talent contest on a Paul Whiteman radio show, sang 'Loch Lomond' at age five in a Hal Roach Our Gang episode and played Judy Garland's sister in Presenting Lily Mars '43. At 17 she went to France and worked with jazz giants such as Coleman Hawkins and Lionel Hampton. She made her first records '52 for Dizzy Gillespie's Dee Gee label; that year she began writing lyrics to fit jazz solos, a style called 'vocalese' which Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure were also doing: her 'Twisted', about psychoanalysis, used a tune invented by tenor saxist Wardell Gray.

She subbed for Billie Holiday at the Apollo and won over the toughest audience in the world. In London, then New York, she appeared (and recorded) with Anthony Newley in John Cranko's revue Cranks '56, then was asked by Jon Hendricks to rehearse the chorus for an album idea. She could teach the chorus to sing lyrics to Count Basie tunes but couldn't make it swing; Hendricks decided to use multi-tracking instead and Lambert, Hendricks and Ross was born. They made Sing A Song For Basie on Imperial, an album with Basie and Joe Williams on Roulette and five more albums on United Artists, World Pacific and Columbia, also appearing with Louis Armstrong on a Dave Brubeck album before Annie left, replaced by Yolande Bavan. Ross's swing and incredibly secure ear helped them win several Grammys '57-62; they were one of the hottest acts in jazz.

Annie's own albums appeared on Prestige, Pye, HMV, three on World Pacific/Pacific Jazz, Transatlantic, Ember, Muza and MPS (Skylark '56 was made in London, backed by a quartet with Tony Crombie on piano; later on DRG CD). She ran a jazz club in London, Annie's Room, in the early '60s; her one-woman Late Night Show was a hit at the Hampstead Theatre Club '71 and was recorded live by Decca (You And Me, Baby). She appeared with Vanessa Redgrave on stage in The Threepenny Opera, made TV shows with Tony Bennett, appeared in concert with the André Previn Trio and with the London Sinfonietta and in the Hammer film Straight On Till Morning (also writing and singing the theme song), as well as co-authoring a cookbook, all in '72. She had a British TV series about an all-girl band (Send In The Girls); other stage appearances included The Seven Deadly Sins (with the Royal Ballet) and the Joseph Papp production of Pirates Of Penzance (with Tim Curry); her many films have included Superman III '83, Throw Mama Off The Train '87, Pump Up The Volume '90, horror send-ups Basket Case II and III '90-2 (she sang Lloyd Price's 'Personality' in the last), Blue Sky '91 and Robert Altman's The Player '92 and Short Cuts '93 (as a jazz singer). In '92 she appeared on U.S. TV sitcom "WKRP In Cincinatti" (episode called 'Mama Was A Rolling Stone').

In 1995 she appeared in jazz clubs in Britain and made a Sony Talking Book album Wishing On The Moon on Columbia about her friend Billie Holiday (written by Donald Clarke, but improvised here and there by the irrepressible Annie), and then a CD Music Is Forever on DRG in December, with Frank Wess, Al Grey, Tommy Flanagan and others: in a balanced set from the wartime novelty 'One Meat Ball' (sung in the past by Tony Pastor and Josh White) to several standards and four numbers from her own career (including 'Twisted'), as well as the title song, co-written by Ross and Russ Freeman, the voice was smokier, but the jazz feeling and the fun undimmed. Let Me Sing 2005 on Consolidated Artists Productions saw her pretty much reduced to sprechstimme, but with a terrific beat, aided by a marvelous small group including Warren Vaché. The jazz feeling and fun were still there in 2013, when she entered the recording studio again with Bucky and John Pizzarelli for To Lady With Love, including songs associated with Lady Day, and closing with a reprise of 'Music Is Forever'. This package, on the Red Anchor label, included a 15-minute DVD of commentary by Annie and the father and son guitarists. Her interpretive powers had deepened, and the Pizzarellis contribution was perfect, according to Joe Lang in Jersey Jazz. A play by Brian McGeachan, Twisted: The Story of Annie Ross, premiered in London in 2006.