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marlena shaw

Marlena Shaw

b. Marlina Burgess, 22nd September 1942, New Rochelle, New York, U.S.A.

d. 19th January 2024, U.S.A.

Marlena Shaw was a versatile vocalist, encompassing Jazz and Soul vocal stylings effortlessly.

Marlena was born in New Rochelle, New York.

Her uncle Jimmy Burgess introduced her to the recordings of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

In 1952, Jimmy took her on stage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem to sing with him and his band.

Her mother did not want a young Marlena to go on tour with her uncle and refused to let her go.

As she grew Marlena bought records by Al Hibbler, a vocalist who had a big influence on her singing style.

Her mother then enrolled Marlena into the New York State Teachers College in Potsdam (now known as the State University of New York at Potsdam) to study music.

For some time in 1963 she worked around New England with a trio led by the Jazz trumpeter, Howard McGhee.

Due to perform at the Newport Jazz Festival with Howard and his band, Marlena suddenly departed the group following an argument with one of the band members.

Marlena auditioned for the Columbia label talent scout John Hammond, however, nerves got the better of her, so she continued to play at small clubs in 1964 until 1966.

In 1966 when she performed at a gig with the Playboy Club chain in Chicago, where she met with representatives of the music label Chess Records.

That year she signed with Chess and recorded 'Mercy, Mercy, Mercy' for the label, selling well for a debut 45, as well as being a rare vocal performance of a Jazz instrumental.

Out Of Different BagsThe Spice Of Life

out of different bags - 1967 / the spice of life - 1969

At Cadet Marlena released her first two albums, 'Out Of Different Bags' (in 1967) and 'Spice Of Life' (in 1969).

The latter release was notable for the melodies, 'Woman Of The Ghetto', along with the Ashford and Simpson song 'California Soul'.

Marlena was also the featured vocalist, in 1966, on the Ramsey Lewis hit, 'Wade In The Water'.

Through her accountant, she was brought to the attention of bandleader Count Basie, and she ended up singing with the Basie band for four years.

Marlena relocated to Blue Note Records in 1972, and was that label's first female artist and toured for a while with the late Sammy Davis, Jr.

MarlenaFrom The Depths Of My Soul

marlena - 1972 / from the depths of my soul - 1973

LiveWho Is This Bitch Anyway?

live at montreux - 1974 / who is this bitch anyway? - 1975

She recorded five albums and several singles for Blue Note, before relocating to the CBS Columbia imprint in 1977.

Just A Matter Of TimeSweet Beginnings

just a matter of time - 1976 / sweet beginnings - 1977

1976 saw her album 'Just A Matter Of Time' take her into a more Soulful sound, highlighted by her take on the Lee Garrett song, 'Better Than Walking Out'.

Marlena left Blue Note after this release and signed with the CBS Columbia imprint.

In 1977, Marlena recorded the album that is closest to the soul fraternities hearts, namely 'Sweet Beginnings' for the label.


This album contained, arguably, Marlena's finest moment 'Yu Ma / Go Away Little Boy', which was a medley, partly, containing the old Goffin and Carole King standard, originally recorded by Nancy Wilson.

The album also contained the track 'Look At Me, Look At You', popular on the U.K. rare groove scene.

Acting UpTake A Bite

acting up - 1978 / take a bite - 1980

In 1978, Marlena released 'Acting Up', which contained the popular song 'Rhythm Of Love', along with her take on the Al Johnson song 'Back For More'.

'Take A Bite' saw Marlena take on the Diana Ross song 'Touch Me In The Morning', moving the melody from ballad to dancer.

Let Me In Your LifeIt Is Love

let me in your life - 1982 / it is love - 1986

She was, also, the first person to record a Gary Taylor song,'Without You In My Life', on her 1982 album 'Let Me In Your Life', which was a part Johnny Bristol, part Webster Lewis producd vehicle.

In 1983, she recoded with the fusion artist Phil Upchurch on his 'Name Of The Game' album, weighing in with the song 'Could It Be You'.

1986 saw the release of 'Is It Love', a live album which contained version of 'Yu Ma ' Go Away Little Boy'.

Love Is In FlightDangerous

love is in flight - 1988 / dangerous - 1996

In 1988, one of her most highly regarded releases, 'Love Is In Flight', saw a release for the Verve imprint.

Very much a Soul music recording, the album contained the popular songs 'Before You Know It', 'Love Is In Flight' and 'Loving You'.

Marlena released, 'Dangerous', (in 1996) is her first for the Concord Jazz label.

On one track, she was joined by vocalist Kevin Mahogany for a duet on 'You Make Me Feel Brand New.'

Elemental SoulAnthology

elemental soul - 1997 / anthology - 2000

In the year 2000, Soul Brother Records in Putney, United Kingdon, released an anthology of the best of her output including 'Wade In The Water', California Soul', Yu-Ma Go Away Little Boy' and 'Look At Me Look At You'.

Marlena still performs and records today.

MemoriesLive In Tokyo

memories - 2001 / live in tokyo - 2003

In the year 2001 and in 2007, Marlena Shaw was one of the performers at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands.

Marlena’s career started during the Sixties and she continued to perform up until her death in January 2024.

Her daughter, Marla Bradshaw, said on Facebook, she died at home, peacefully, listening to some of her favourite music. Marla wrote:

“It’s with a very heavy heart that for myself and my family I announce that our beloved mother, your beloved icon and artist Marlena Shaw has passed away today at 12:03,” Marla said. “She was peaceful. We were at peace. … She went listening to some of her favorite songs.”
She added, “I just want to thank you all for being on her page. Thank you for being a part of her life. Especially these last three years, which made her very happy.”

Her music had often been sampled in hip hop music, and used in television commercials globally.

Real Player


Out of Different Bags (Cadet Records 1967)

Spice of Life (Cadet Records 1969)

Marlena (Blue Note Records 1972)

From The Depths Of My Soul (Blue Note Records 1973)

Live at Montreux (Blue Note Records 1974)

Who Is This Bitch, Anyway? (Blue Note Records 1975)

Just a Matter of Time (Blue Note Records 1976)

Sweet Beginnings (CBS Columbia Records 1977)

Acting Up (CBS Columbia Records 1978)

Take a Bite (CBS Columbia Records 1980)

Let Me in Your Life (South Bay Records 1982)

It Is Love (Verve Records 1986)

Love Is in Flight (Verve Records 1988)

Dangerous (Concord Jazz Records 1996)

Elemental Soul (Concord Jazz Records 1997)

Anthology (Soul Brother Records 2000)

Memories (Sony Special Products 2001)

Live in Tokyo (Japanese Import 2003)

Lookin' for Love (441 2004)

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