Celebrated soul and jazz singer MARLENA SHAW died, yesterday 19th January. She was aged 81 and the news was announced by her daughter, Marla Shaw who posted on Facebook : “Hello everyone, it is with a very heavy heart that for myself and my family, I announce that our beloved mother, your beloved icon and artist, Marlena Shaw, has passed away today at 12:03.” No other details are forthcoming save that Ms Shaw died “peacefully at home, listening to her favourite music”.
The singer was born, Marlina Burgess in New Rochelle, New York in 1942 and as a child she was introduced to the wonders of jazz via her trumpet playing uncle Jimmy Burgess. She was soon singing in the jazz clubs and bars of New York where she attracted the attention of Chess Records who signed her to a recording contract. She released her first two albums on their subsidiary Cadet, with her best known outing being a version of the Ashford/Simpson song, ‘California Soul’ – the track becoming a staple on the European rare groove scene and it’s enjoyed over 100 million streams on Spotify alone. Her spirited version of ‘Wade In The Water’ also eventually became a big Northern soul sound while her stirring ‘Woman Of The Ghetto’ became an anthem of empowerment!
In 1972 Marlena signed with Blue Note; by the late 70s she was working with Columbia where a track from her ’77 ‘Sweet Beginnings’ album, ‘Yu Ma/Go Away Little Boy’ became another rare groove classic and much sampled by aspiring young artists. The intro monologue is regarded as a classic of its kind! Marlena sort of re-visited it on her 2003 collaboration with Nathan Haines, ‘Squire For Hire’. Amongst her other popular recordings are ‘Don’t Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow’, ‘Look At Me Look At You’ and her disco-slanted cover of ‘Touch Me In the Morning’
Marlena Shaw remained active though the 80s, 90s and into the new millennium. She was a regular performer at jazz and soul festivals the USA, Asia and in Europe where she was revered by both the soul and jazz communities.