Singer Al Jarreau Dies at 76


Al Jarreau (1940–2017)

(Photo: Marina Chavez)

Jazz vocalist Al Jarreau died in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, surrounded by family and friends. He was 76. About a week prior to his death, Jarreau had canceled all his forthcoming tour dates and been hospitalized for exhaustion. In recent years, he had battled respiratory and cardiac issues.

A dynamic performer with a remarkable vocal range, Jarreau topped the Male Vocalist category of the DownBeat Readers Poll seven consecutive times, from 1977 to 1983.

Fans who bought tickets to Jarreau’s concerts knew that they might hear his brilliant examples of vocalese as well his scat-singing.

The variety of categories in which Jarreau won Grammy awards illustrates his tremendous versatility. He is the only vocalist in history to win Grammy awards in the genre categories jazz, pop and r&b.

Jarreau’s most popular album, Breakin’ Away (1981), was a platinum-selling disc that yielded the huge hit “We’re In This Love Together.” The album was honored with a Grammy in the category Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male. A track from the album, “(Round, Round, Round) Blue Rondo À La Turk” won a Grammy in the category Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Male.

Jarreau won a Grammy in the category Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for a version of “God Bless The Child” that was a collaboration with guitarist George Benson and vocalist Jill Scott. The song appears on Benson and Jarreau’s album Givin’ It Up.

Jarreau’s 1992 album Heaven And Earth won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male.

He won back-to-back Grammy awards in the category Best Jazz Vocal Performance for his 1977 live album, Look To The Rainbow, and his 1978 studio album, All Fly Home.

Jarreau saw his fan base expand with the popularity of the sitcom Moonlighting, which ran from 1985–’89 and starred Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. The show’s theme song, also titled “Moonlighting,” was sung by Jarreau, who composed it with Lee Holdridge. The song was included on the TV show’s official soundtrack album, and it was released as a single, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart for July 25, 1987.

Jarreau also participated in the fund-raising single “We Are The World” in 1985, appearing alongside such stars as Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Ray Charles.

Alwin Lopez Jarreau was born on March 12, 1940, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His father was a minister and singer, and his mother played piano in church.

Jarreau earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ripon College and a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa.

Early in his professional career as a singer, he worked with pianist/keyboardist George Duke (1946–2013).

Jarreau’s final album, My Old Friend: Celebrating George Duke, was released Aug. 5, 2014, on Concord Records. The album, which re-interpreted some of Duke’s renowned catalog of post-bop, jazz-fusion, r&b and Brazilian jazz, spent two weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Albums and Current Jazz charts.

In 2016 Jarreau performed at the White House in Washington, D.C., as part of the International Jazz Day Celebration.

The 2017 Grammy awards telecast on the evening of Feb. 12 included a brief, non-musical tribute to Jarreau.

Upon learning of Jarreau’s death, r&b singer Chaka Khan tweeted, “Rest in power, @AlJarreau. U were EVERYTHING Jazz & beyond with an unrivaled improvisational genius. Love & prayers 2 his family & fans.”

“We feel very fortunate to have worked with Al, one of the most distinctive and extraordinary vocalists in the music,” said Concord Records President John Burk. “He was truly a force of nature and a beautiful human being that will be fondly remembered and deeply missed by us all.”

ACT label head Siggi Loch, who first met Jarreau in 1975, issued a statement that read, in part, “The world has lost one of its greatest artists and I, furthermore, … a dear friend.”

The following statement was posted on the official Al Jarreau website on Feb. 12: “The family asks that no flowers or gifts are sent. Instead, please consider a contribution to the Wisconsin Foundation for School Music, a wonderful organization which supports music opportunities, teachers, and scholarships for students in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin. Link to the donation Page: Even if you do not plan to contribute, please visit that page and give yourself a minute to watch a beautiful tribute video which was produced by Wisconsin Public Television.” DB

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