EXPIRED: 08/29/09 – Chris Connor, 81. A clarinet player named Mary Jean Loutsenhizer was never gonna be famous. But if you changed your name to Chris Connor and became a smoky-voiced “cool jazz” singer, well – things got interesting…
Connor, a Kansas City native, got her singing start in her teens in a University of Missouri band led by Bob Brookmeyer.
By 1949, she changed her name and moved to New York where she sang with Claude Thornhill’s orchestra and other bands before joining the Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1952. She professed her admiration of singers such as Anita O’Day and June Christy.
“My voice seemed to fit the band,” Connor once said of her Kenton stint. “With that low register like Anita’s and June’s.”
She recorded the hit song “All About Ronnie” with the Kenton band, then launched a solo career that lasted off and on until recent years.
She made records with a vast array of jazz instrumentalists including J.J. Johnson, John Lewis, Oscar Pettiford, Lucky Thompson, Phil Woods, Kenny Burrell, Milt Hinton, Clark Terry, Oliver Nelson, Herbie Mann and Maynard Ferguson.
At one point, Connor was the first white female jazz singer to be signed by Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic label, which was, at the time, primarily a rhythm and blues label. Her Atlantic albums were always polished productions, and she was given free rein to choose her own songs as well as the opportunity to work with any musicians she wished.
She performed her last public show in New York in 2004, appearing on a club stage with O’Day.