The Shirley Horn Essentials…

Shirley Horn - Here's To Life

“May all your storms be weathered.
May all that’s good better.
Here’s to life. Here’s to love. Here’s to you.”

– Shirley Horn

On this date in 1934 in our jazz history, vocalist/pianist extraordinaire Shirley Horn was born in Washington, D.C.

Here’s her bio from

“A superior ballad singer and a talented pianist, Shirley Horn put off potential success until finally becoming a major attraction while in her 50s. She studied piano from the age of four. After attending Howard University, Horn put together her first trio in 1954, and was encouraged in the early ’60s by Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. She recorded three albums during 1963-1965 for Mercury and ABC/Paramount, but chose to stick around Washington, D.C., and raise a family instead of pursuing her career. In the early ’80s, she began recording for SteepleChase, but Shirley Horn really had her breakthrough in 1987 when she started making records for Verve, an association that continued on records like 1998’s I Remember Miles. You’re My Thrill followed in early 2001.”

My personal love affair with Shirley began in 1993. Upon a friend’s recommendation, I bought the Glengarry Glen Ross movie soundtrack which introduced me to Shirley singing “You’d Better Go Now” and also Jimmy Scott singing “Street of Dreams.” About a month later, I was shopping for music and saw Shirley’s “Here’s To Life” CD and purchased it. I was in euphoria. Never had I heard such wonderful phrasing sang slowly coupled with such brilliant yet efficient piano playing. I saw her in concert for the first time at Ravinia just days before my 30th birthday. From beginning to end, it was sheer pleasure. I was seated so that I could see her fingers touch the keys while she played and sang her enchantingly beautiful melodies. She had the ability to make the most from silence. I have seen her several times since and each time has been amazing. I now own 19 of her CD’s and every compilation I can find that she has sung on. I would recommend her 1992 album “Here’s to Life” as the quintessential album for your collection. It was produced by Johnny Mandel and every song is a treasure. I once read that “songs are happy when Shirley sings them.” I know this to be true.

Here’s some additional titles that you will also definitely enjoy:

1960 – “Embers and Ashes
1963 – “Loads of Love/Shirley Horn with Horns
1965 – “Travelin’ Light
1987 – “I Thought About You – Live At Vine St.
1988 – “Softly
1988 – “Close Enough For You
1991 – “You Won’t Forget Me” (featuring Miles Davis)
1993 – “Light Out of the Darkness – A Tribute to Ray Charles
1994 – “I Love You, Paris
1995 – “The Main Ingredient” (recorded in her home)
1998 – “I Remember Miles
2001 – “You’re My Thrill
2003 – “May The Music Never End
2005 – “But Beautiful: The Best of Shirley Horn

Notable albums where Shirley is featured on vocals and/or piano:

1990 – Carmen McRaeSarah – Dedicated To You” (Shirley on piano with her trio)
1991 – Toot Thielemans – “For My Lady” (Shirley on piano and vocals with her trio)
1995 – Jeffrey Smith – “Ramona” (Shirley on piano with her trio)
1996 – “Antonio Carlo Jobim and Friends” (vocals and piano)
1997 – “A Tribute to Oscar Peterson – Live at The Town Hall” (vocals)
1999 – Charlie Haden Quartet West – “The Art of the Song” (vocals)
2001 – Bill Charlap – “Stardust” (vocals)

For a real treat, check out the Shirley Horn Discography. It is definitely an impressive body of work.

5 Responses to “The Shirley Horn Essentials…”

  1. kevinrscott says:

    ok, after reading this post i realize i have quite a few shirley horn pieces in my collection. i was introduced to her back in 1997 and loved her immediately.

  2. nakachi says:

    i love shirley horn. i remember thinking when i first heard her music, “how have i lived without this?”
    thank God i don’t have to worry about *that* anymore.

  3. bill says:

    clink, clink!! ;o)

  4. ronn says:

    You know, I fell in love with Shirley Horn after seeing her on PBS (?) a few years ago. I’m with Nakachi, can’t believe I lived that long without her singular style. Altho I still don’t own any of her recordings. I’m gonna have to make a music run and raid dad’s music room.
    James, you are a remarkable resource and I must make a point to check you out much more frequently.

  5. james says:

    awwwwww….thank you!!!

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