[JPL] Anita O'Day October 18, 1919-November 23, 2006 (New
York Times Obit)
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Fri Nov 24 06:16:02 EST 2006
November 24, 2006
Anita O¹Day, 87, Hard-Living Star of the Big-Band Era and Beyond, Dies
By NATE CHINEN
Anita O¹Day, whose coolly ebullient and rhythmically assured vocal style
made her a premier singer of both the big-band and postwar jazz eras, and
whose taste for fast living secured her name as one of jazz¹s toughest
survivors, died yesterday in Los Angeles. She was 87.
Her death was announced by her manager, Robbie Cavolina, who said that she
had been recovering from pneumonia. Ms. O¹Day had no children or immediate
family, he said.
³When you think of the great jazz singers, I would think that Anita is the
only white woman that belongs in the same breath as Ella Fitzgerald and
Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan,² said the jazz critic Will Friedwald in
³Anita O¹Day: Life of a Jazz Singer,² a forthcoming documentary directed by
Mr. Cavolina and Ian McCrudden.
Born Anita Belle Colton in Chicago, Ms. O¹Day began her career as a
dance-marathon contestant. She adopted her stage name early on. ³I¹d decided
O¹Day was groovy,² she explained in ³High Times Hard Times,² her unvarnished
autobiography written with George Eells, ³because in pig Latin it meant
dough, which was what I hoped to make.²
Through most of the 1940s, Ms. O¹Day ranked among the best of the big-band
vocalists. Her first big break came with the Gene Krupa Orchestra, and it
was with that band that she had her first hit, a duet with the trumpeter Roy
Eldridge called ³Let Me Off Uptown.² Though essentially a novelty tune, it
was also a bold stroke at a time when black and white musicians were still
not commonly heard side by side.
It wasn¹t the only boundary Ms. O¹Day would push during her early years in
the spotlight. Bucking the glamorous expectations of a big-band canary, or
³girl singer,² she performed in a standard-issue band jacket and skirt. This
tomboyish image proved both influential and a bit scandalous, like a number
of things in Ms. O¹Day¹s life and career.
After Krupa, Ms. O¹Day worked more briefly with the orchestras of Woody
Herman and Stan Kenton. Her version of ³And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine² was
one of Kenton¹s biggest hits up to that time.
Ms. O¹Day¹s personal life was famously a cyclone of drug and alcohol abuse,
marriages, numerous abortions and affairs. She had a weakness for drummers:
her first husband, Don Carter, played drums, and so did her closest musical
partner for many years, John Poole. In 1947 she made headlines for her
arrest, with her second husband, Carl Hoff, for marijuana possession. She
was arrested again in 1952, and went to prison. Her near-death from a heroin
overdose in the late 1960s prompted a serious try at rehabilitation.
Ms. O¹Day always maintained that her notoriety helped fuel her success, and
the music doesn¹t contradict her. In the 1950s she made a string of
well-produced pop albums on Verve Records, with what would become signature
renditions of ³Honeysuckle Rose² and ³Sweet Georgia Brown.²
Her Sunday afternoon performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, as
captured in Bert Stern¹s film ³Jazz on a Summer¹s Day,² was one of her great
offhanded achievements. Turned out in a crisp black dress and
ostrich-feathered hat, she sang an insinuating ³Sweet Georgia Brown² and a
breakneck ³Tea for Two,² both with a playful mastery.
Ms. O¹Day was fond of asserting that she was not a singer, but a song
stylist; she took pride in her self-made technique and her ability to
deliver a tune with confidence, no matter how frenetic the setting. It was
the same skill that she emphasized in her life. ³Given a choice,² she wrote
in her autobiography, ³I wanted to be where the action was.²
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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