Performers who sing while accompanying themselves on the piano have been a part of music for a long time, and some of them have been very talented at handling both duties. But not many could measure up to the late Shirley Horn, a jazz artist who was so good at focusing on both skills that she was once described as ‘almost having two heads’. She was also someone who found her biggest professional success late in life, providing an inspiration to anyone who thinks the years might have passed them by.
A native of Washington, D.C., Horn studied music from an early age, receiving an extensive classical education, but eventually turned to jazz. When she reached adulthood in the early 1950s, her talent soon drew the attention of stars like Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, and she spent a decade working with them and other pros. She also made some very good records during this period, enough to fill several albums, but by the mid-1960s she was ready to devote herself almost exclusively to raising a family.
Almost two decades later, now middle-aged, she began to again actively pursue a musical career. She soon signed a recording contract, and also began appearing live in selected spots, and it wasn’t long before she was building a big following. She would eventually gain nine Grammy nominations, winning Best Jazz Vocal for 1998’s tribute to her friend, I Remember Miles. She would also make numerous appearances at the White House and receive countless honors, including the Jazz Master award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Although worsening health would slow her down, she continued performing whenever possible until her death in 2005. Her legacy is secure.