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Anita O'Day

Few female singers matched the hard-swinging and equally hard-living Anita O'Day for sheer exuberance and talent in all areas of jazz vocals. Though three or four outshone her in pure quality of voice, her splendid improvising, wide dynamic tone, and innate sense of rhythm made her the most enjoyable singer of the age. O'Day's first appearances in a big band shattered the traditional image of a demure female vocalist by swinging just as hard as the other musicians on the bandstand, best heard on her vocal trading with Roy Eldridge on the Gene Krupa recording "Let Me Off Uptown." After making her solo debut in the mid-'40s, she incorporated bop modernism into her vocals and recorded over a dozen of the best vocal LPs of the era for Verve during the 1950s and '60s. Though hampered during her peak period by heavy drinking and later, drug addiction, she made a comeback and continued singing into the new millennium.

Born Anita Belle Colton in Chicago, she was raised largely by her mother, and entered her first marathon-dance contest while barely a teenager. She spent time on the road and occasionally back at home, later moving from dancing to singing at the contests. After bad experiences amid brief tenures with Benny Goodman and even Raymond Scott, O'Day earned a place in Gene Krupa's band in 1941. Several weeks later, Krupa also hired trumpeter Roy Eldridge, and the trio combined to become an effective force, displayed on hits like "Let Me Off Uptown," "Boogie Blues," and "Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina." She spent a brief period away from Krupa with Woody Herman, but returned to the band, only to have it break up by 1943. After moving to Stan Kenton, she starred on Kenton's first big hit, 1944's "And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine." Another stint with Krupa presaged her solo debut in 1946, and with drummer John Poole as her accompanist, she recorded a moderate hit one year later with the novelty "Hi Ho Trailus Boot Whip."

Her career really ignited after her first album, 1955's Anita (also known as This Is Anita). Much more successful in the jazz world than she was in its pop equivalent, she performed at jazz festivals and jazz-oriented concerts, appearing with figures including Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and George Shearing. Her performance at 1958's Newport Jazz Festival made her fame worldwide after being released on a film titled Jazz on a Summer's Day.

O'Day's series of almost 20 Verve LPs during the '50s and '60s proved her to be one of the most distinctive, trend-setting, and successful vocal artists of the time, arguably surpassed only by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. She worked with a variety of arrangers and in many different settings, including a hard-swinging Billy May collaboration (Anita O'Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May), an excellent, intimate set with the Oscar Peterson Quartet (Anita Sings the Most), several with the mainstream Buddy Bregman Orchestra (Pick Yourself Up, Anita), one with the cool-toned Jimmy Giuffre (Cool Heat), and a Latin date with Cal Tjader (Time for Two) as well as a collaborative LP with the Blue Note instrumental trio the 3 Sounds. Even by the early '60s, however, her ebullient voice had begun sounding tired. The cumulative effects of heroin addiction, its resulting lifestyle, and a non-stop concert schedule forced her into a physical collapse by 1967.

After taking several years to kick alcohol and drug addictions, she made a comeback at the 1970 Berlin Jazz Festival and returned in the early '70s with a flood of live and studio albums, many recorded in Japan and some released on her own label, Emily Records. Her autobiography, 1983's High Times, Hard Times was typically honest and direct regarding her colorful past. Though her voice gradually deteriorated, O'Day recorded throughout the 1970s and '80s, remaining an exciting, forceful vocalist on record as well as in concert. She slowed down considerably during the '90s, and appeared only occasionally. She re-emerged in 2006 with a new album (Indestructible!), recorded during the previous two years, but passed away in November of that year due to the effects of pneumonia and advanced Alzheimer's disease. ~ John Bush, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Young Anita (Box Set)

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4


When I was stationed in England from '54 to 58, I used to go to the 55 Club and listen to the Anita Day reel to reel tapes among others like Ella, Dinah, etc. They were my connection to reality, sanity and loneliness being so far from home. She is tremendous and one of the greats.

Bo Braze
One of the best Jazz Singers that I fell in LOVE with after taking a Jazz Music class in college...of which I dreaded, but now say thank you.
Wonderful Singer.
What can one say? It's Anita.
Newly discovered (for me). What a great voice and arrangements . Glad I've found another amazing talent that IMHO ranks right up there with Shirley Horn, Peggy Lee, et al.
Great music from a great music era......
A far cry from the screaming and lyrically bankrupt sounds heard today on the popular voice competitions . I am so glad I lived in the era of the greats. Hey, and I can still hear them, thanks to Pandora!
Who cares, a great song , Anita sings this with great style!
What can one say???? Perfect!!!!
I fell in love with anita 20 years ago . She and Oscar peterson
This is my kind of music love it
A great, great songstress. I have always loved her;
Wow, a real singer with real feeling in that amazing voice. Hurray for Pandora. We had too many years with Plastic voices in plastic bodies. Love real talent not processed through mixers and regurgitator s . That goes for Ella, the Divine Sarrah, Dinah Washington and all the other great voices.
While living in Hemet, California I had the pleasure of meeting Anity, we redesigned several rings for her stage appearances during her comeback. It was a thrill for me since I had been a swing era fan and loved to listen to her. Her stories while with the Krupa band were just fun listening to. Loved this women.
stephen.meye r s 1
Lovell anity. Have the krupa and. Billy may cd's. Pandora has given me more of the great. Anita
Leave a comment…
I discovered her through the Verve: Remix sessions. Tenderly. I tear up whenever I hear it. LOVE YOU BABE ! ! !
Great job Pandora - thanks for my continuing musical education! I had heard of Anita, but don't recall listening to her - great vocals and phrasing.
Anita O'Day and June Christie, my two favorites of that era...
LIVE in Rochester, N.Y. in 1959. Met her and loved her. My top gal musician ever. Jim McS
I discovered her through the PBS show. I can't believe my parents never told me about Anita! I consider my fortunate to have seen Cab Calloway perform before he died, but it's my loss that I didn't see this woman while she was still performing.
i grew up and developed a love for jazz...and discovered a teenage crush for Anita's singing!
jennifer_w_h a l e
So Brilliant.
Thanks to, I'm discovering Anita. I love her voice!
I grew up hearing Ella, Sarah, Nancy and yes Anita singing with all the big bands. My Dad loved Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Harry James, etc. I don't think I appreciated all that talent until I got older. I am so glad we have recordings of all those wonderful talents.
The bottom line...she could swing with the best of them!! I love her sound and I'm glad there is so much music to remember her by. And she will be remembered!! !
If you wish you had seen this marvelous woman in concert live, don't feel so bad. I did. Although I was brought up on jazz and saw her live in New Jersey at the fabled Red Hill Inn, I was just too damned young to appreciate her. She made demure the negative quality it deserved to be.
Recently watched a documentary on Anita and man, she was no joke. Everything she did she did full force. It's sad that she's gone but thankfully we have her music.
Anita is the BOMB
in reply to "Jay Petersen" saying: 'The first time I heard her sing, I thought "this woman is drunk!' Well, you were probably not far off base there as I read more about her struggles with booze and pot for example. Seems Gene Krupa had some issues w/Weed as well. However, I love Anita, she is not only a beautiful lady, she can sing like no one's business. I wish I could have caught some of her early stuff live. what an amazing person.
I love Anita. Despite the be-bop, the tricks , hip and scat, all cool, but what really comes through for me is her deep deep feeling . Only Billie moves me as much. And what bull about a vibratoless voice? By definition sound is a column of air vibrating.
The first time I heard her sing, I thought "this woman is drunk!" Now, I enjoy her crazy tempos ("Night and Day" being one example) and flair for messing with rhythm. Her pitch is not the most reliable, so if you insist on that, you'll have trouble with her, I think. One of my favorite moments in any recording is the fadeout on "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" where she matches the timbre of the horn instruments. Awesome!
The greatest pure jazz singer
I would say the only thing that hurt her popularity was her addictions or maybe her unadulterate d honesty....
More like all of their heroine, Billie Holiday. She works so hard to try to play down her similarities to Billie and to keep her own style. All the greats were "students" of Billie. And then they took it to new levels of style, never straying too far off the basics of jazz. Although each added to the female jazz voicing with pure sound like Sarah; voicing and syncopation like Carmen; pure voicing and jazz styling like Ella. Blossom was a stylist in her own sub-genre. Nancy was a wonderful mix of
Has a sound a lot like Ella. Yeeeeeeeeeaa a h h .
a great talent roy s
This is one of Anita's best.
You get the immediate impression that here is a woman who LOVES THE MUSIC... whatever other junk went on in her life, she had the chops & the style - in spades.
I was on a Jazz themed honeymoon cruise in 1986. We were just getting into our cabin the first afternooon, hadn't even closed the door; when a highly exasperated older woman in flamboyant dress comes bursting in asking "Do you have any outlets? I'm right next door and there are NO extra outlets in my room.I can't believe this...and Im the STAR!" was Anita O'Day! What a character; and what a talent!
hazel.kimbal l
swings with the best
I just saw a documentary about Anita's life last night. Wow, was she something else!
A tough gal with a TON of talent as a jazz vocalist.
To me Anita is the most underated of the great female singers. She is right there with Ella, Billie and Sarah. She swings with the best of them!!!
oldster weighing in on lovely anita. i come from the progressive era. ( tho i love many kinds of jazz ) i got to every live show that would let in a gal who wasnt 21 yet, and so i saw a LOT of howard rumseys light house. anita was one of my favorites not just for her great voice and interpretati o n s , but i saw her hard living image as one id like to have too.
Another one of my faves, in the Top 5... Yes... The Newport Jazz clips are great, her Billy May colaboration , doing Cole Porter is just a lot of fun. Definately a class act, even beyond on the personal crap.
thanks, irwin.
I read Anita's one autobiograph y . PLEASE, people who knew her, write a book with a more complete story. Reading that book, I got such a feeling that her publicist was in charge of it.

She was so wunnerful. I know it's a matter of taste - but I will never understand why she was not more widely popular.
Check out her performance at the Newport jazz festival on u tube well worth it
One of the greatest jazz singers ever.

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