South Carolina Native Etta Jones: Great Jazz Vocalist Changed History for Jazz Genre

by on August 8th, 2013
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American Jazz vocalist Etta Jones was one of many famous women who were born in South Carolina and changed history in their respective fields. Etta Jones was born on Nov. 5, 1928, in Aiken S.C. but at age three her family moved and was she was raised primarily in New York City. Jones enjoyed a six decade career before she passed away Oct. 16, 2001, Mt. Vernon, N.Y. My objective in this article is to provide some facts and information about this tremendous Jazz vocalist whom some have called a well-kept secret during her long career. Etta Jones was one of the pioneers in the history of Jazz and still has millions of devoted jazz followers all over the world!

Etta Jones Career (spanning 1943-2001)

From the tender age of three, Etta Jones knew singing was in her blood, as she mimicked songs in front of a mirror. Her earliest influences came from jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Thelma Carpenter. It was Buddy Johnson, pianist and band leader who discovered Jones when at fifteen she performed on Amateur Night at the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem. Johnson recognized her ability although she didn’t give a promising performance that night due to shyness and nerves.

Johnson, however on that evening in 1943 chose Jones to fill in for his sister vocalist Ella Johnson who was absent from his band for a year while having a baby. Etta Jones was given this chance which launched a 19 year run with Johnson’s band until 1949, when she started singing with “Fatha” Earl Hines. She was with Hines for three years after which she then attempted to launch a solo career which never fared very well.

Jones was sometimes overlooked even in her field of jazz, for other singers who may have been less talented but was hyped and promoted more. Neither was she well known outside of the jazz genre until later years. Though Ms. Jones had to work as an elevator operator, an album stuffer, and a seamstress at times during the 1950’s, she still recorded her first full length album in 1956 entitled “The Jones Girl…Etta…Sings, Sings, Sings” with King Records. This album received little fan support, therefore was not a huge money maker for Jones.

Jones’s career took off in the 1960’s when her album “Don’t Go to Strangers” debuted in 1960. It was a sudden success among a mainstream audience, which was unexpected since it was an all- jazz album. The title song won her a Grammy nomination, her first of three during her career, and it also placed her on the top 40 charts.

In 1968, Jones’s career experienced another change when she teamed up with Houston Person, a tenor saxophonist and his trio. The two got along famously together and had a partnership in music that lasted for the next thirty years.

During the 1970’s, Jones and Person continued as a team, and in 1975 he became her manager and record producer as well. From the mid 70’s until Jones’s death in 2001, their collaboration produced 18 albums under the Muse label. From these 18 albums came her other two Grammy nominations; one in 1981 for “Save Your Love for Me,” and the other in 1999 for “My Buddy-Etta Jones Sings the Songs of Buddy Johnson” a tribute to her discoverer.

Etta Jones lost her battle with cancer on Oct. 16, 2001 which coincidentally was the first day for the release of her final album ” Etta Jones Sings Lady Day .”

Some of my favorites of Miss Etta’s include Mr. Bo Jangles, Bye, Bye Blackbird, and Say It Isn’t So. Etta Jones had a great strength and power in her jazzy voice and she will forever be remembered as the great Jazz singer originally from South Carolina!


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