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Marlena Shaw, Renowned Soul And Jazz Singer, Dies Aged 81

The New York-born vocalist, best-known for the much-sampled ‘California Soul’ recorded for prestigious labels such as Blue Note and Verve.

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Marlena Shaw - Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Marlena Shaw, the highly-renowned soul and jazz singer most known for her hit song “California Soul,” has died. She was 81.

Shaw’s daughter, Marla Bradshaw, shared the news of her death on Friday, January 19, in a video posted on Facebook. At the time of writing, the cause of the star’s death has not been revealed.

“It’s with a very heavy heart that for myself and my family I announce that our beloved mother, your beloved icon and artist Marlena Shaw has passed away today at 12:03,” Bradshaw said. “She was peaceful. We were at peace…She went listening to some of her favorite songs.”

She added, “I just want to thank you all for being on her page. Thank you for being a part of her life. Especially these last three years, which made her very happy.”

Born on September 22, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York, Marlena Shaw was first introduced to music by her uncle Jimmy Burgess, a jazz trumpet player. In an interview with The New York Times, she said: “He [Jimmy Burgess] introduced me to good music through records – Dizzy [Gillespie], Miles [Davis], a lot of gospel things, and Al Hibbler, who really knows how to phrase a song.”

Shaw began her music career in the 1960s and went on to influence several musical genres, including jazz, soul, disco and R&B. In total, the vocalist released 17 albums with eight different record labels throughout her career, including a spate of releases for the legendary Jazz imprints, Blue Note and Verve Records.

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Shaw initially rose to popularity when Chess Records noticed her in the ’60s. It was under the music label’s subsidiary Cadet Records that she released the albums Out of Different Bags (1967) and The Spice of Life (1969), the latter of which included the hit tracks “California Soul” and “Woman of the Ghetto.”

“California Soul,” written by Ashford & Simpson, has since been sampled by several other artists, including Gang Starr, Stereo MC’s, DJ Shadow and Diplo. Prior to Shaw’s reading of the song, “California Soul” was first recorded by The Fifth Dimension, and also became part of many television ads too. It currently has more than 100 million streams on Spotify.

Shaw later released a series of acclaimed titles for Blue Note Records, which she moved to in 1972. These include Marlena, From the Depths of My Soul and Just a Matter of Time. She later released Sweet Beginnings under Columbia Records in 1977. The latter release contained the track “Look at Me, Look at You,” popular on the U.K. rare groove scene.

She continued to perform live into the 2000s, and recorded the theme song “Don’t Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow” for the 1977 film, Looking for Mr. Goodbar. In 1999, 2001 and again in 2007, Shaw gave acclaimed performances at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands.

Verve Records, who worked with Shaw in 1987, shared an official statement, “We are saddened by the passing of Marlena Shaw, a wonderful singer whose ‘California Soul’ is as popular today as it ever was and whose album It Is Love: Recorded Live At Vine St. helped relaunch the Verve label in 1987.”

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. david clifton

    January 21, 2024 at 9:36 pm

    I loved how she sang You Me and Ethel. And Dave.And who is this B???? Anyway. Ma I brought the whole coat. Sleep well

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