The Music of Etta Jones


Introduction to Etta Jones

Etta Jones (not to be confused with the legendary singer Etta James) was an  American 60s music-era jazz chanteuse best known for her work for the Prestige label and with saxophonist/manager Houston Person.  North Carolina-born but New York-raised, Jones toured with Buddy Johnson when she was 16.  She made her recording debut alongside clarinetist Blarney Bigard and saxophonist George Auld, singing four songs penned by Leonard Feather.  She also performed with Earl Hines and his group.  Her 1960 album Don’t Go to Strangers was a hit.  She continued recording for Prestige until 1965, and along with Houston, continued recording prolifically under Muse label.  She died from cancer on October 16, 2001; the date of her death was marked exactly 57 years ago when Jones’ last recording Etta Jones Sings Lady Day (a tribute to Billie Holliday) was released.

Early years

Born on November 5, 1938 in Aiken, South California, Etta Jones was an American jazz singer best known for her hit recordings such as “Don’t Go to Strangers” and “Save Your Love for Me.” Jones was already dreaming of becoming a singer at the early age of three, mimicking Billie Holiday and Thelma Carpenter in front of the mirror. Just like jazz singers Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, the 15-year old Jones had her first stint an Amateur Night in Harlem’s Apollo Theater.  In the early 1940’s, Jones was already touring with big bands such as the Harlemaires and the Barney Bigards Orchestra. In 1944, she had her first recording with the Barney Bigards Orchestra arranged by pianist Leonard Feather.

Music career

Jones struggled to become a solo artist for her attempts were not successful at first. She had flop singles in Black & White and RCA Victor labels side by side. Despite the increasing popularity of R&B  at that time, she never tried to switch genres which made her an obscure artist for years. Aside from performing at night clubs, Jones had several day jobs as well like an elevator operator, and album stuffer and a seamstress during the 1950’s. She had opportunity to record her debut full-length album, The Jones Girl… Etta … Sings, Sings in 1956 but it was largely unnoticeable.

Jones’ music career changed in 1960 when her demo was sent to Prestige Records’ producer Esmond Edwards by her manager Warren Lanier. Jones immediately got signed and recorded the debut album Don’t Go to Strangers. Although it was a jazz album which would only appeal to a limited audience, it unexpectedly sold one million copies and received a Grammy nomination.  Throughout the 1960’s, Don’t Go to Strangers was followed by several albums but they experienced marginal successes due to the rising fame of The Beatles and other pop and rock bands.

In 1968, Jones teamed up with saxophonist Houston Person that would last for more than thirty years. During in the 1970’s, Person eventually became her manager and record producer. Isn her later career, Jones received Grammy nomination twice for Save Your Love for Me (1981) and My Buddy (1999). Jones recorded 18 albums (for Muse label) with Person until she died on October 6, 2001 in Mount Vernon, New York. 72-year old died from cancer which she had quietly battled for some time.

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