Singer Barbara Morrison
A pillar in her LA community, singer Barbara Morrison leaves behind a deep legacy of song, creativity, and community empowerment.
Barbara Morrison sang with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Kenny Burrell, Hank Crawford, Nancy Wilson, Ray Brown and the Count Basie Orchestra. She performed at Carnegie Hall, toured Europe with Ray Charles and sang at the North Sea, Bern and Playboy jazz festivals.
Morrison was born in 1949 in Michigan. She was no stranger to music or vocal stylings as her father was a popular doo-wop singer. The mic eventually found its way to Barbara, and at 10 she recorded her first appearance for radio in Detroit. At 23, and for good reason, Barbara decided to trade the Detroit snow for LA sunshine, setting out west to further her career as a singer.
She would find steady work with blues great, saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and performances with The Johnny Otis Show really grounded Morrison in blues and jazz. She was featured prominently on the 1977 album Back To Jazz With Johnny Otis & His Orchestra and Introducing Barbara Morrison.
Over the years Morrison performed with a virtual "who's who" from the jazz and the blues worlds. Fans experienced the pleasure of Barbara Morrison's rich, vibrant tones on notable television and film appearances, including on the soundtrack for The Hurricane starring one of her favorite actors, Denzel Washington.
After years as a side woman, Barbara found her own voice when former bandmates Vinson and Otis encouraged her to sound "like Barbara Morrison," not Barbara Streisand. Her 1992 album Doin’ All Right highlights her charisma and charm, adding her own flair to standards near and dear to jazz fans.
With a discography spanning more than 20 records, her impact on stage and inside studios only rivals her impact on the LA communities. Johnny Otis didn’t just encourage Barbara to find her own voice, but to learn her own peoples' music, and in turn, the people of her newfound community.
She opened the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, then later, the California Jazz & Blues Museum. She also passed on her musical education as an adjunct associate professor of global jazz at UCLA. In 2020, UCLA launched the Barbara Morrison Scholarship for Jazz.
Morrison received three Grammy nominations, and was recognized by National Public Radio as one of the Voices of the Century: 50 Greatest Female Jazz Vocalists, and also received a Motown Heroes and Legends Award in 2015.
The L.A. Times quoted: “Her soulful voice was only surpassed by her beautiful spirit and radiance. She was the essence of 'A Sunday Kind of Love.'” — which she covered on her 2013 album of the same name.
After a bout with diabetes, Morrison lost her leg in 2011. It needed to be done to save her life. Morrison told The Los Angeles Times, “Thankfully it doesn’t affect my singing at all.”
It didn’t stop her ability to record or tour either. Well into her career, Morrison was poised and polished, as evident on this rendition of A Sunday Kind of Love, where she teamed with the soulful Houston Person.
With a career spanning more than six decades, Morrison wowed audiences and dazzled critics with her euphoric, rhythmic, and dominant vocals. In recognition of her lasting impact on the Leimert Park & Greater Los Angeles communities, the intersection of 43rd Street & Degnan Boulevard was renamed six months after her death on the anniversary of her birth, Sept. 10, as “Barbara Morrison Square.”