Annie Ross, Jazz Vocalist of ‘Twisted’ Renown, Dies at 89


Annie Ross, who rose to fame as a jazz singer in the 1950s, struggled with personal problems in the ’60s, faded from the spotlight in the ’70s, re-emerged as a successful character actress in the ’80s and finished her career as a cabaret mainstay, died on Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 89.

Her death was confirmed by her former manager, Jim Coleman.

Ms. Ross acted on stage, screen and television and recorded several well-received albums under her own name. But she remained best known for her tenure, from 1958 to 1962, as the high voice of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, probably the most successful vocal group in the history of jazz.

Lambert, Hendricks and Ross were unusual in that they derived most of their repertoire not from Tin Pan Alley but from jazz itself. The group’s specialty was putting lyrics to previously recorded jazz instrumentals, a practice known as vocalese.

In witty and somewhat surreal words carefully matched to the jagged contours of the original recording, “Twisted,” which begins with the memorable lines “My analyst told me/That I was right out of my head,” tells the first-person story of a neurotic patient who is convinced that she is wiser than her psychiatrist (because, among other reasons, “Instead of one head/I got two”).

Despite its unorthodox subject matter, “Twisted” was one of the most popular numbers in the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross repertoire, and probably the most frequently covered: It has been recorded by Joni Mitchell, Bette Midler, Mark Murphy and others. In 1997, Ms. Ross was heard singing the song over the closing credits of Woody Allen’s film “Deconstructing Harry.”

The critic Leonard Feather called Ms. Ross “the most remarkable female vocalist in jazz since Ella Fitzgerald.” Few others went that far, but her voice, which could slip comfortably from a smoky contralto to a giddy soprano, proved ideal for handling parts that had originally been played by pianos or trumpets. It provided an attractive contrast to the gruff timbres of Dave Lambert and Mr. Hendricks, while her polished and glamorous stage presence was an important factor in the group’s appeal to audiences otherwise uninterested in jazz.

Annie Ross was born Annabelle Macauley Allan Short on July 25, 1930, in Mitcham, a town in Surrey, England, into a theatrical family. Her parents, Jack and Mary Short, were a Scottish vaudeville team; she claimed that her mother gave birth to her immediately after finishing a performance at a London music hall.

When she was 3 she was sent to Los Angeles to live with an aunt, the singer and actress Ella Logan. She made her movie debut in 1938 in an “Our Gang” comedy short and graduated to feature films in 1943, playing Judy Garland’s younger sister in “Presenting Lily Mars.”

She later moved frequently — first to New York, where she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts; then to London, where she took the name Annie Ross and worked as a singer and actress; then to Paris, where she came under the spell of jazz, performing and recording with a number of expatriate American musicians. One of them, the drummer Kenny Clarke, became her companion and the father of her only child, Kenny Clarke Jr., who survives her. Survivors also include her companion, Dave Usher.

Ms. Ross recorded “Twisted” for the Prestige label during a brief return to New York in 1952. It became a minor hit, but she did not stick around long enough to savor its success, instead returning to Europe in 1953 to tour with Lionel Hampton’s band and then settling again in London.

She went back to New York to appear on Broadway in the British revue “Cranks,” and in 1957 she joined forces with Mr. Hendricks and Mr. Lambert to record the album “Sing a Song of Basie,” on which they sang Mr. Hendricks’s lyrics to some of the Count Basie big band’s most celebrated recordings, using multiple overdubs to make their three voices sound like a dozen. The album was a hit, and the three vocalists decided to make their partnership permanent.



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