Shirley Horn, a jazz singer-pianist who won over fans with her intensely intimate delivery, died last week at a nursing home in Cheverly, Md. at the age of 71, her music label Verve Music Group announced.
Horn, who for years waged battle against breast cancer, succumbed to complications from diabetes, a disease that led to the amputation of her right foot in 2002. She leaves behind her husband, Sheppard Deering, of Upper Marlboro, Md.; her daughter, Rainy Smith of Maryland; and several grandchildren.
During an illustrious career that included multiple Grammy nominations and an award in 1991 for best vocal performance, Horn was likened to Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen Rae. She was also widely considered one of the last great jazz legends of her generation.
But Horn told the Associated Press in 1991: "There’s no category for me. I like to be referred to as a good singer of good songs in good taste."
A native of the Washington area, Horn began playing the piano when she was a child, and before she started studying at HowardUniversity, she had already put together her first jazz trio.
Her talent drew the interest of musical legends such as Quincy Jones, and Miles Davis gave Horn’s career a boost when he invited her to open for him at the Village Vanguard in 1960.
Horn nonetheless receded from the limelight after producing two albums for Mercury Records because of creative differences and the birth of her daughter.
"I just remembered when I was a young girl at 11 and 12 and I would come from music school and my mother was there with a hot meal," she said in a 2002 interview with NPR. "I was there [for my daughter], and I was happy that I was."
Upon her return to music, Horn delivered several acclaimed albums, and became a fixture at major jazz festivals and venues around the world. As her career wound down in her later years, Horn performed with a range of artists from Davis to Wynton Marsalis.
Ill health did not keep Horn away from the piano. In her final performances in New York, a two-week schedule of performances at Le Jazz Au Bar last year, she sat at the piano once more, with the aid of a prosthesis that allowed her to use the instrument’s pedals.