Vocalist Annie Ross Dies At 89


Annie Ross (1930–2020)

(Photo: Michael G. Stewart/National Endowment for the Arts)

A brief but fruitful period defined the creative life of vocalist Annie Ross, who died July 21 from emphysema and heart disease at her home in Manhattan, according to The Guardian. She was 89.

Ross, a British-born vocalist who rose to prominence in the trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, began her career in entertainment as a child actress, and later in life would be featured in Hollywood productions like Throw Momma from the Train (1987), The Player (1992) and Short Cuts (1993).

Her continued influence on generations of performers, though, derived from the unique approach her vocal trio took. In part, improvisation was deployed atop jazz standards, raising scat singing to a footing equal with instrumentalists. But vocalese—or setting lyrics to fit classic jazz solos—also gave the ensemble a singular approach to the cannon.

In 1958, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross issued its first full-length album, the Creed Taylor-produced Sing A Song Of Basie, collecting songs from Count Basie’s songbook and setting the big-band tunes in a smaller group, allowing the talents of each singer to find a proper spotlight. Later recordings embraced bop works, too, including Sonny Rollins’ “Airegin.”

“Twisted,” a tune centered on Ross from the trio’s 1959 release, The Hottest New Group In Jazz, became a hit and found favor with performers like Joni Mitchell and Bette Midler, who later would cover the song.

Ross left the ensemble, which continued for a few years with a replacement vocalist, in 1962 as she dealt with heroin addiction.

Ross was born Annabelle Short on July 25, 1930, in Surrey, England, into a family of entertainers: Her parents’ careers in vaudeville seemingly created a template for her future career. She moved as a child to the States and for a time lived in Los Angeles with an aunt, Ella Logan, who was an actress.

Following the dissolution of her group with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks, Ross—who was the last surviving member of the trio—would move back to England, where she ran a club for a time. It wasn’t a total departure from the entertainment industry, but being separated from her trio mates clearly occupied her mind.

“When you want something so much, you can’t live for it all the time. You have to put it somewhere for a while,” Ross told DownBeat in an article titled Jon Hendricks & Annie Ross: Down For Double from the September 1999 issue. “Otherwise, you drive yourself crazy. You can’t talk about it, because you have to deal with things at hand. But it’s always there.”

Ross is survived by Kenny Clarke Jr., her son with drummer Kenny Clarke, as well as her partner, Dave Usher. DB

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