Shirley Horn was a classically trained pianist and vocalist who forged a friendship with jazz legend Miles Davis, enjoying a career resurgence in her late ‘40s. The Washington, D.C. native was born May 1, 1934.
Horn began studying piano at the age of four. She studied composition and piano at the Howard University Junior School of Music before attending and graduating from the college. She was accepted at the Julliard School of Music, but her parents could not afford the tuition.
After college, Horn married Sheppard Deering, a mechanic, and turned her attention mostly to being a wife and homemaker.
But she continued to play in clubs across Washington, D.C., becoming known for both her piano playing and singing ability. Her embrace of slow, jazzy tunes endeared her to audiences. She recorded a few albums, including 1961’s Embers and Ashes which caught the attention of Davis.
Davis famously tracked Horn down to open up for him at New York’s famed jazz club, the Village Vanguard. Stars such as Sidney Poitier and Charles Mingus were in attendance, among many others.
Davis refused to play the show unless the owner allowed Horn to open, which he initially denied because he’d never heard of her. Despite his fears, Horn wowed the crowd and was eventually signed to Quincy Jones’ Mercury Records.
But Horn was challenged by the music industry. Jones tried to turn her into more of a pop sensation, moving her away from the piano, her first love. Horn semi-retired from the ‘60s until the early ‘80s to focus on raising her daughter, Rainy, but was still performing in local clubs.
Horn was rediscovered in 1978 at the age of 44 and she didn’t look back. She ultimately signed with Verve in 1987, remaining there until the end of her life. She maintained her friendship with Davis up until his passing in 1991, collaborating with a great number of artists despite keeping a low profile.
Davis has said Horn was his favorite singer.
In honor of her friend, Horn recorded, I Remember Miles, winning a Grammy Award in 1999 for the project.
Horn passed in October 2005. She was 71.
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