Shirley Horn Biography

Shirley Horn BiographyClaim to Fame: Jazz singer and pianist
DOB: May 1, 1934
Date of Death: October 20, 2005
Diabetes Type: Unknown

Born in Washington, D.C., Shirley Horn proved her musical genius at a young age. Encouraged by family, particularly her grandmother who was, likewise, musically gifted, Horn revealed herself to be a prodigy, beginning lessons on the piano at the age of four and studying musical composition at Howard University at the age of twelve.  By eighteen, the wunderkind had procured a place at the Julliard School in New York City. However, despite scholarship, the family could not afford the cost of living in New York City and Horn remained in Washington, D.C., taking advanced classes at Howard University, from where she would graduate with a degree in classical music.

By age 20, Horn had created her first jazz piano trio, which garnered her local renown and put her on the path toward national fame. By 1960, the dying ember of New York, which was suffocated to the point of extinction with the failed dream of attending Julliard, received a new spark as Horn was asked back to New York to record her first album, “Embers and Ashes.” Despite limited distribution, the album had great success in jazz circles and won her the recognition of many jazz celebrities and bigwigs, such as Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, and record labels like Mercury and Impulse.

After a falling out with Mercury Records due to creative differences, Horn returned to Washington, D.C., where she performed at local concerts and clubs. Fearing the changes in the music industry, Horn chose to keep her appearances to a minimum, producing the occasional album with Verve Records. She continued to have great success with the albums she produced under the Verve label, particularly “I Remember Miles,” an album dedicated to Davis and which won her the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.

In 2002, Horn was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berkley Collage. However, her health and music career would take a dramatic turn when she was forced to undergo a leg amputation as a result of complications due to diabetes. From then on, Horn was unable to play the piano, despite great effort. In 2005, after a life-long struggle with breast cancer and diabetes, Horn ultimately succumbed from complications due to a massive stroke at the age of 71. Horns career reflects a talent that would neither be controlled nor ever truly understood by mainstream musical culture. She remains a prominent figure and source of influence within jazz groups and her legacy lives on in connection with Miles Davis and other jazz legends.

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Last Modified Date: November 28, 2012

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by Brenda Bell
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