Marlena Shaw (born Marlina Burgess in New Rochelle, New York, on 22 September 1942; died 19 January 2024) was an American jazz, blues, and soul singer. Shaw began her singing career in the 1960s and continued to perform until her death. Her music has often been sampled in hip hop music, and used in television commercials.
Shaw's first musical influences were her uncle and grandmother, who loved to sing and play gospel music on the family’s hi-fi record player. As a young girl, Shaw was also involved with numerous gospel singing groups. Her first experience singing before a large audience was with her uncle, who played trumpet and exposed her to the music of jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie. At only 10 years old, Shaw performed with her uncle at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and they were asked to return for the next week's show. As she recalls, her uncle got booked elsewhere on the same night, and a young Shaw had to take the stage solo at the Apollo for the second show.
Shaw's professional aspirations were rejuvenated after she was married and living on an Air Force base near Springfield, Massachusetts. Encouraged by friends, she auditioned and got gigs near the base, then made a demo tape in the garage of Charlie Parent, a local drummer. The tape eventually landed her a regular gig at the Concord, a resort hotel in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.
Shaw's big break was an invitation to sing with the Count Basie Orchestra. Basie’s accountant heard her at the New York Playboy club. Basie was sent a copy of one of her records, while Shaw met with Basie alumnus and trumpeter Frank Foster to arrange charts of some of her numbers. The next thing she knew, she was flown out to meet the whole band at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas.
She met with representatives of the Chess Records music label, and soon signed with them. She released her first two albums on their subsidiary Cadet Records. A 1969 album track "California Soul", a funk-soul tune written by Ashford & Simpson and originally issued as a single by American pop quintet The 5th Dimension, later became a staple of the UK rare groove scene. This song has appeared in television commercials for Dockers, KFC and Dodge Ram trucks. Unable to find her own style at Chess, she moved to the jazz-oriented Blue Note Records in 1972.
In 1977 she released an LP Sweet Beginnings on Columbia that contained: "Yu Ma / Go Away Little Boy", a medley containing the old Goffin and Carole King standard, originally recorded by Nancy Wilson. The album also contained the track Look at Me, Look at You, popular on the U.K. rare groove scene. She sings the theme song "Don't Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow" from the 1977 film Looking for Mr. Goodbar that's also found on its soundtrack. She also recorded one of the disco era's biggest hits, a remake of "Touch Me in the Morning", also on Columbia Records.
In 1982 Shaw recorded the Gary Taylor ballad called "Without You in My Life" from the LP Let Me in Your Life that was jointly produced by Johnny Bristol and Webster Lewis on South Bay records. This had moderate chart success in the USA. In 1983 she recorded the vocals for "Could It Be You", a track by Phil Upchurch on his Name of the Game album.
Shaw continued to perform and record. In 1999, 2001 and again in 2007, Shaw was one of the performers at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands. Read more on Last.fm
. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply.