Jazz was a musical revolution that started out in the southern regions of the United States. It gained in popularity with the black Afro-American population. Involving a lot of polyrhythms, blue notes and improvisation, it was always considered a musically superior genre. Many great artists have glorified jazz since its inception and the genre has spurted many sub-genre classifications. Here is the list of the top ten most famous jazz singers of all time.
Perry Como was an eminent television personality and an authority on jazz music. He was a barber who chanced upon singing for a local big band for a smaller amount. A few years later, he joined Ted Weems’ orchestra which broke up during the outbreak of the World War II. That was the time when Perry went solo and went on to achieve more than 150 hits. His 50-year-career earned him 100 million in record sales. He was the jazz singer with the loveliest, sweetest voice as quoted by Andy Williams.
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The only singer who had a voice deeper than and as impactful as Frank Sinatra’s, Dick Haymes was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1916. He grew up in the States where his mother was instrumental in introducing him to vocals. Haymes got his first break in 1940 when he started performing with the orchestra of Harry James. He went solo in 1943 notching up 66 hits over the next 13 years. Some of his notable hits were “Little White Lies”, “You’ll never know” and “It can’t be wrong”.
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Dinah Washington was a popular pianist, pop and jazz vocalist who was often called “the most popular black female recording artist of the 50s”. While she was growing up in Chicago, she played piano for the church choir. Dinah later joined Lionel Hampton’s band and sung various jazz, blues and R&B songs. The song “Evil Gal Blues” penned by Leonard Feather came to be her first ever recording. It also featured notable musicians including Joe Morris and Milt Buckner. Washington was inducted into the “Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame” in 1986.
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Ella Jane Fitzgerald was an American jazz vocalist who was bestowed with a gift of a vocal range spanning three octaves. She developed a different approach towards scat singing and could imitate many instruments with her voice. Her version of the nursery rhyme “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”, also co-written by her, brought her instant success. With a career spanning over 60 glorious years, she earned the title of “Queen of Jazz”. Her vocal technique remained unparalleled.
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Johnny Hartman was one of the most famous jazz singers who was, ironically, never widely known by the public. He specialized in ballads and majority of his career was spent recording solo albums. His voice perfectly complemented with John Coltrane’s melodies, with whom he often collaborated. Johnny Hartman briefly served as a member in Dizzy Gillespie’s group and also recorded with Erroll Garner. He gained posthumous reputation when seven of his songs from the Bee Hive album served as soundtrack to Clint Eastwood’s movie “Bridges of Madison County”.
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Lena Horne was an American singer, dancer, actress and civil rights activists. She made her foray as a member of the chorus line at the Cotton Club which was a famous jazz club in New York. She acted in several films in the 1940s but she became disillusioned when she came to know of prominent racism in the film industry. Horne then reverted back to her nightclub singing career and performed with famous jazz musicians like Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. In 1995, a live album of hers from the Supper Club performance earned her a Grammy Award for best jazz vocals.
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Originally a jazz pianist, Nat “King” Cole rose to fame as a singer in the early 1940s. His soft baritone earned him musical fame worldwide. Cole, along with Oscar Moore on guitars and Wesley Prince on double bass formed the musical trio called the “King Cole Trio”. Most of Nat Cole’s works are either Afro-American folk or early rock n’ roll. He overcame racism taunts to gain respect amongst known jazz musicians. He was also the first African-American male to host a television variety show.
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Sarah Lois Vaughan nicknamed “Sailor” for her salty speech, was an American jazz artist. She gained fame when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. She caught the eye of bandleader and pianist, Earl Hines who was prominent during the whole swing/pre-bebop era. She earlier played piano for Hines’ band but later handled jazz vocal duties after it was established that she had a gifted voice. Sarah later joined Billy Eckstine’s band that also featured notable jazz artists. It was here that Vaughan exploited her jazz skills influenced by bebop pioneers like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
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Frank Sinatra was an American singer and actor. Sinatra got his first break during the swing era with Tommy Dorsey’s big band as a replacement for Jack E. Leonard. This turned out to be a turning point in Sinatra’s career. He gained prominence and started getting offers for roles in musical films such as “Anchors Aweigh”. Sinatra was at the peak of his career with “Rat Pack” which was a group of actors/singers that included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. He had won numerous awards both as a singer and an actor.
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Regarded as one of the most talented people in the jazz circuit, Louis Armstrong was an American trumpeter and singer hailing from New Orleans. His voice was a crowd-puller, so was his humourous scat singing. Armstrong was an improvisational singer who would often toy around with melodies to make them sound more impacting. Rightfully so, he is considered as the father of modern jazz.
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