Jazz singer and vocalese pioneer Annie Ross dies

She was 89 years old.

Famed jazz singer Annie Ross has died at the age of 89 after suffering from emphysema and heart disease. Ross died in her Manhattan home on July 21, her manager Jim Coleman confirmed to The Washington Post.

Ross found early fame as a child performing in musical films including Presenting Lily Mars, in which the singer acted as Judy Garland’s sister. Aged 14, Ross wrote “Let’s Fly” and got the attention of industry heavyweight Johnny Mercer, who subsequently recorded the track with the Pied Pipers.

Ross’ Grammy award-winning trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross formed later in New York and helped establish the vocalese style of jazz, in which lyrics are paired with a soloist’s improvised performance.

“Jazz is improvisation, and that’s what I try to do,” Ross told Jazz Times in 2015. “I believe if you can just hit it, right away, that’s what the value is. That’s what jazz is. Somebody asked for ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ and we did a knockout version of it. We don’t rehearse. My guys don’t use music. It’s purely ear.”

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The singer eventually separated from the group and opened her nightclub Annie’s Room in London, where the singer booked Nina Simone, Joe Williams and a run of other high-caliber acts to perform. Over the years that followed, Ross continued to act and record music, releasing her final album To Lady with Love in 2014. She is survived by her son Kenny Clarke Jr.

RIP, Annie Ross. Listen to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross’ debut album Sing a Song of Basie below:

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