Passings: Ernestine Anderson

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Passings: Ernestine Anderson

Ernestine Anderson photo by Kip Lott

International Jazz Giant Ernestine Anderson

November 11, 1928 – March 10, 2016

Born in Houston, Texas, international jazz great Ernestine Anderson passed away peacefully on March 10, surrounded by her family in Seattle where she had resided since the age of 16.

Anderson’s career began in the early 1940s, though she had begun to sing along with Bessie Smith records at age 3. Equally gifted at singing upbeat, spirited blues, big band/swing, and jazzy pop, her early career led her to sing alongside Russell Jacquet, Eddie Heywood, Shifty Henry, and Johnny Otis. By the 50s, Anderson had become a prominent jazz stylist performing with Lionel Hampton on the New York Club scene.

Ernestine performed at the first and many subsequent Monterey Jazz Festivals. Prior to recording her breakout hit album Hot Cargo in 1956, Anderson had also performed with a Seattle contemporary and fellow Garfield High School graduate, Quincy Jones, who described Anderson’s voice as “honey at dusk.”

Anderson first recorded in 1955 with bandleader Gigi Gryce. Recording two albums by 1959, she won the New Star Award from DownBeat critics. In 1969, Anderson’s “He Says He Loves Me,” recorded for the Sidney Poitier film The Lost Man, garnered great international attention, making her a highly in-demand singer. By the mid-1980s Anderson was cutting sessions with her own quartet, and her 1981 album Never Make Your Move Too Soon earned her first of four Grammy nominations.

In 1999, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Brian Lanker selected Ernestine as one of 75 women to be featured in his book, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America, alongside Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Sarah Vaughn, Oprah Winfrey, and others.

“Ernestine was mother of Seattle’s soul music,” said Congressman Jim McDermott. “Mississippi had BB King and Seattle had Ernestine Anderson. Ernestine’s legacy remains unmatched in Seattle’s music scene. She was a dear friend and will be greatly missed.”

Anderson created many memorable moments around the world and in Seattle. She performed a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald at Carnegie Hall, performed with Billy Taylor at the Kennedy Center, and added her voice to The White House first inauguration event for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. During the 1988 Kool Jazz Festival, a crowd of over 10,000 joined her at Marymoor Park for the last strains of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” and New Year’s Eve at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley became a much-anticipated event for the many years that she was the evening’s featured guest.

Anderson lived a fulfilling life. Her devotion to family kept her in Seattle where she could be close to her beloved twin sister Josephine, who preceded Ernestine in death.

Her eldest daughter Shelley describes her mother as “one of the most generous individuals you could ever meet, and extremely committed to her city.”

Anderson routinely accepted invitations to perform at benefits for local charities and causes. Her 70th Birthday Bash at the Paramount Theatre was a benefit for Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Rise n’ Shine Foundation.

Performing with and mentoring young musicians was a true passion for Anderson. She was an early mentor for young musicians in the Seattle Theatre Group’s More Music at the Moore, and delighted in performing with a mixture of young and seasoned musicians on the Paramount stage again in 2008 for a Lifetime Achievement Award Tribute to Quincy Jones.

“Ernestine was a giant of the jazz community and a Seattle ambassador to the world,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “She represented the best of our city. Her work was a vibrant part of our community’s culture. I will never forget her performances and I feel fortunate to have witnessed her artistry and genius.”

Though her physical voice has been stilled, the sound of her beautiful and diverse vocal styling will continue to bring a unique kind of musical experience to listeners for decades to come.

Ernestine is survived by 3 children, 8 grandchildren, and 4 great grandchildren, and a host of friends around the world.

– Ed., courtesy of Vivian Phillips, on behalf of the Anderson family