'California Soul' singer Marlena Shaw dies, aged 81

22 January 2024, 12:10

Marlena Shaw in 1977
Marlena Shaw in 1977. Picture: Getty Images

By Mayer Nissim

Marlena Shaw had a six-decade career spanning jazz, soul and funk.

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Jazz legend Marlena Shaw has died at the age of 81.

News of her passing was revealed by her daughter Marla Bradshaw in a video posted on Facebook on Saturday (January 20).

"It's with a very heavy heart 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 went very peacefully, and she went listening to some of her favourite songs."

Born in New York, Shaw was introduced to music by her jazz trumpeter uncle Jimmy Burgess, and she sang on stage with him at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1952, when she was just ten years old.

California Soul

She went on to perform in jazz clubs and released her debut album Out of Different Bags in 1967.

The follow-up The Spice of Life came out two years later and contained her take on 'California Soul'.

Written by Ashford & SImpson, the song was first recorded by The Messengers, and was also covered by 5th Dimension, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and Edwin Starr.

Marlena Shaw in concert in 2009
Marlena Shaw in concert in 2009. Picture: Getty Images

While Shaw's version of the track didn't chart, it became a beloved classic that has gone Gold in the UK. It has been sampled or remixed by artists including DJ Shadow, Gang Starr, Nightmares on Wax and Diplo, and has also appeared in countless adverts and movies.

In the 1970s, Marlena recorded a string of albums, first with Blue Note and then Columbia, with 1975's Who Is This Bitch, Anyway? peaking at number eight on the jazz album charts.

She continued to perform and record in the subsequent decades, up to 2004's Lookin' For Love LP.

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