Jazz Vocalist Chris Connor Dies at 81

Obituaries   Jazz Vocalist Chris Connor Dies at 81
Chris Connor, a jazz singer who was known for her cool and controlled delivery of the American Popular Songbook, died Aug. 30 in Toms River, NJ. She was 81 and lived in Toms River.

Ms. Connor was one of the last of a breed of cooly romantic jazz vocalists of the 1950s and '60s whose ranks once included such icons as Anita O'Day, June Christy and Chet Baker. Beloved by hardcore jazz and vocals fans, she was never as famous as those artists, her career having suffered from bad business decisions and a drinking problem.

Her solo career began in earnest in the early '50s when she joined bandleader Claude Thornhill's vocal group, the Snowflakes. In 1953, she became vocalist for the Stan Kenton band, after being heard singing live on a radio broadcast from the Roosevelt Hotel by then-Kenton-vocalist June Christy. Christy, who wanted a solo career, recommended Connor as a replacement. But she stepped down after five months, exhausted by the touring schedule.

"With Claude, the whole five years was practically one-nighters," she told The Washington Post. "You'd get to the job, if you were lucky, about six in the evening and have maybe an hour and a half to grab a hamburger at the White Tower and check in the hotel. And I'd have to get my gown ready, put it in the shower and let all the wrinkles hang out."

She signed with Bethlehem Records, and found success with the label's first two 10-inch LPs, "Chris Connor Sings Lullabys of Birdland" and "Chris Connor Sings Lullabys for Lovers." In 1956, she became one of the first white female jazz singers signed to Atlantic Records. There, she recorded more than a dozen albums for the label, including "Chris Connor," "I Miss You So" and "He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not," "Chris Connor Sings the George Gershwin Almanac of Song" and "A Portrait of Chris." She also scored her only two hits "I Miss You So" (1956) and "Trust In Me" (1957).

Instead of re-signing with Atlantic in 1963, which would soon became nationally prominent, Ms. Connor chose to sign with her manager Monte Kay's lesser known label, FM. She managed to record two albums before the label declared bankruptcy the following year. After years of obscurity and excessive drinking, during which she recorded for a variety of labels, she experienced a comeback in the 1980s. She recorded for small labels, releasing the records "Haunted Heart," "I Walk With Music" and "Everything I Love," on Highnote Records.

She was born Mary Loutsenhizer in Kansas City, MO, on Nov. 8, 1927. Her mother Mabel Loutsenhizer died in 1940 and Mary moved in with her older sister, who took over the responsibility of raising her. She first sang publicly in 1945, at the Jefferson City Junior College's graduation.

Ms. Connor is survived by her longtime partner and manager, Lori Muscarelle.

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