Born on April 28, 1926, in East Durham, NY. Addresses: Record company--Universal Records, 1755 Broadway, 7th Fl., New York, NY 10019, phone: (212) 373-0600, website: http://www.universalrecords.com/.

Blossom Dearie's wispy vocals, classic repertoire, and quick wit have combined to make her a distinct stylist for over 50 years. Lacking the vocal prowess of Ella Fitzgerald and the range of Sarah Vaughan, Dearie made the most of her delicate voice by incorporating elements of cabaret into her style. She further strengthened her approach by relying on ballads borrowed from the classic songbooks of the Gershwins and Rodgers and Hart, along with humorous songs by newer writers like Dave Frishberg. Dearie has also gaineded converts due to her feisty, humorous personality. When performing in nightclubs, her contracts insist that no food or drinks be served during her performance. Although her endearing traits have never made her rich and famous, they have nevertheless spawned a small coterie of dedicated fans that includes Marlon Brando, Raymond Burr, and Vanessa Redgrave.

Dearie was born on April 28, 1926, in East Durham, New York, a town located 20 miles from Albany in the Catskill Mountains. Her father came from a Scotch-Irish background and worked as a bartender; her mother had emigrated from Oslo, Sweden, as a small girl. Blossom Dearie received her unusual name when a neighbor brought peach blossoms to the Dearie home on the day of their daughter's birth. From the age of two, she showed an interest in music, sitting on her mother's lap at the piano. A year later she had decided to become a musician.

Dearie began her first piano lessons at five. At ten, while living with her stepbrother in Washington, D.C., she received instruction in the classical compositions of Bach and Chopin. Her progress impressed her teacher, who recommended that she study classical music at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. She returned to East Durham, however, and dropped her classical studies. Dearie was introduced to jazz for the first time while playing in a high school band and knew she had found her life's calling. She absorbed the music of bandleaders Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and she admired Martha Tilton, who sang for the Benny Goodman orchestra. When Dearie finished high school in the mid-1940s, she moved to New York City.

In New York Dearie moved into an apartment with several other girls and started singing with various bands. At first she performed with the Blue Flames, a group within Woody Herman's big band, and then with the Blue Reyes, a part of the Alvino Rey band. She became a regular at Gil Evans's Manhattan apartment, where she met the cream of New York's jazz crop: Charlie Parker, Woody Herman, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Gerry Mulligan. Dearie continued to build her career singing at the Chantilly Club in Greenwich Village and other nightspots. In 1952 she met one of the owners of Barclay Records, Nicole Barclay; she encouraged Dearie to travel to Paris and to take advantage of the strong interest in American jazz there.

In Paris, she joined the Blue Stars, an eight-member vocal group that consisted of four males and four females. Although a number of barriers, including language differences, finally dissolved the group, the Blue Stars did record a hit version of "Lullaby at Birdland." The group appeared on French television and received offers to perform in the United States. When several members were unable to obtain passports, however, the opportunity fell through, and Dearie decided to leave the group. Despite the frustration, Dearie's stay in Paris had been productive. She had met English singer Annie Ross (later a member of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross) while working at the Mars Club, and the two would later collaborate. She also met Norman Granz, the owner of Verve Records, and signed a contract to record six albums for the label.

When Dearie returned to the United States in 1956, she decided to continue her career as a solo artist. She occasionally appeared on the Tonight Show with host Jack Paar and befriended Miles Davis while working at the Village Vanguard. She worked at the Versailles nightclub in New York and started recording what became a group of classic albums for Verve. The series began with Blossom Dearie in 1956 and ended with My Gentleman Friend in 1961. In the words of John Bush of the All Music Guide, "Blossom Dearie's first three records for Verve--all masterpieces--displayed an artist with an uncommon ability to transfer a well-worn standard into a new song ..." Speaking of her selection of material, Dearie told Tony Vellela of the Christian Science Monitor that "I choose material that I like. The music has to be of a certain standard. If the music is no good, I'm not interested in the song."

Dearie recorded less frequently during the 1960s, though she continued to perform regularly. In 1966 she began traveling to London once a year to play at Ronnie Scott's, a popular English nightclub. In 1974 Dearie received praise for Blossom Dearie Sings, the first album released on her new label, Daffodil. She performed in the Jazz Singers program at Carnegie Hall with singers Anita O'Day and Joe Williams in 1975, and in 1976 her friend Johnny Mercer wrote his last song, "My New Celebrity Is You," for her. Recalling her songwriting collaboration with Mercer on "I'm Shadowing You," Dearie told Vellela, "I wonder why we didn't write more songs together."

In 1983 Dearie became the first recipient of the Mabel Mercer Foundation Award, a cash prize of $1500, and in 1993, she performed at the White House with Shirley Horn, Bobby Short, and Mandy Patinkin. "I'm wondering if Bill [President Bill Clinton] is going to want to play the saxophone," Dearie told Jeff Simon of the Buffalo News. "If he does, I guess I'll have to go along with it." During the 1980s and 1990s, Dearie continued to perform in New York and London, cities that were home to her most dedicated fan base.

Numerous stories exist that tell of Dearie's peculiar sense of humor. Once, following a live set, she was approached by a group of college students. The young men, who had enjoyed her music, asked whether they could buy her a drink and share her company for a little while longer. Without so much as a pause, Dearie told them no, but she'd be glad to take them all to dinner, which she did. She has also continued to win over critics over the years, upholding the same high performance standards that charmed audiences from the beginning of her career. "The high-pitched and sweet child's voice with which she's always sung and that can't really be categorized by standard vocal measurements does not age." wrote David Finkle in Back Stage, "When she skips merrily through her repertoire, she sounds exactly as she has for close to 50 years."

by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr

Blossom Dearie's Career

Joined Blue Flames vocal group with Woody Herman's big band and the Blue Reys with the Alvino Rey band, 1940s; relocated to Europe, early 1950s; joined the Blue Stars and recorded hit version of "Lullaby at Birdland"; returned to the United States, 1956; recorded a series of albums for Verve Records, 1956-61; pursued solo career, 1956-; formed Daffodil Records, mid-1970s; performed at Carnegie Hall "Jazz Singers" concert, 1975; performed at White House, 1993.

Blossom Dearie's Awards

Mabel Mercer Foundation Award, 1983.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 3 years ago

Oslo is in Norway, not Sweeden. So, her mother, is she sweedish or norwegian?

about 5 years ago

Only Blossom Dearie could pull off the dark humor of "The Shape of Things to Come." Thank you, Tish Adams of WURI,for the laughs on the way to work the other day. Blossom, you will be missed greatly; but your songs will always be cherished.

about 5 years ago

A sad day. The little voice has been silenced. Ms. Dearie has passed away at the age of 82. Below is a link to an article: http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_11659435?source=most_emailed

about 5 years ago

On the day I hear from her death I am listening all day to her beautiful performances like "Put on a happy face" and "Georgie Fame". What a great artist she was! Blossom Dearie is for me the personalisation of "my days of wine and roses".This way of singing and performing fails me these days. What a taste, what a sound.

over 5 years ago

I know it's inappropriate, but I'm in love with Blossom. So much so, that she stays a regular on my two hour jazz show on Leighton Hospital Radio, here in Cheshire, England. I'm saddened by the fact that I didn't discover the remarkable Ms Dearie a lot earlier in life, but I'm making up for that with collecting her cd's in serious numbers..I'll never tire of her talent and the warmth of her persona that comes through every recording. Bless ya, Blossom!

over 5 years ago

PR man Donald Schaffer and I booked Danny's Skylight Room in New York City. Blossom was the all time favorite booking. I used to sell her CDs from the back of the Cabaret Room and listen to her silky smooth rendition of "My Attorney Bernie" and all the other great jazz greats she sang so well. I was her publicist for a while and it was my honor to work with someone as talented as the great Blossom Dearie.

over 5 years ago

Minor correction : Annie Ross is a Scottish or British singer but never an English one. We don't have enough great jazz singers to be lending them out willy nilly to the "Sassenachs"!

over 5 years ago

Please out there, I'm adding my curiosity and urge to know more about Blossom. We would consider a special family trip to New York to see her before I die. Mario Bégin Carignan, Québec

almost 6 years ago

If anyone knows the answer to Pat Hogan's question below, I will also appreciate seeing it. I have also heard that Blossom Dearie is still performing in NYC and would very much like to hear her in person.

almost 6 years ago

I heard Blossom Dearie is still performing (2008!) and if so, where could I find this out? I hope to be in NYC in mid August and would love to hear her once again, live. She played at the Versailles in the late 50's early 60's. I lived around the corner on 8th Street and dropped in frequently to hear her. Loved her voice, style.

almost 6 years ago

saw Blossom many times over thepast 45 years, wonder how and where she is now, and miss the chance to see and hear her perform. Her recordings are a good consolation

almost 6 years ago

I wish I could tell Blossom Dearie how much her voice has meant to me in the past year. She is my anti-depressant and my tranquilizer. I can be the worse mood and feeling so down; I will put one of her records on and the mood is gone. I would like to know more about her life, but I guess that is being nosy.