Cultural Percussionist

Shirley Horn Day

Shirley Valerie Horn (May 1, 1934 – October 20, 2005) was an American jazz singer and pianist. She collaborated with many jazz greats including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Toots Thielemans, Ron Carter, Carmen McRae, Wynton Marsalis and others. She was most noted for her ability to accompany herself with nearly incomparable independence and ability on the piano while singing, something described by arranger Johnny Mandel as “like having two heads”, and for her rich, lush voice, a smoky contralto, which was described by noted producer and arranger Quincy Jones as “like clothing, as she seduces you with her voice”.

Shirley Horn was born and raised in Washington, D.C.. Encouraged by her grandmother, an amateur organist, Horn began piano lessons at the age of four. Aged 12, she studied piano and composition at Howard University, later graduating from there in classical music. Horn was offered a place at the Juilliard School, but her family could not afford to send her there. Horn formed her first jazz piano trio when she was 20. Horn’s early piano influences were Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, and moving away from her classical background, Horn later said that “Oscar Peterson became my Rachmaninov, and Ahmad Jamal became my Debussy.

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