Chris Connor (November 8, 1927 – August 29, 2009) was an American jazz singer. She helped enhance the "Cool Jazz" style during the 1950's and 1960's, enjoying a career that spanned five decades. Her voice was comparable to such prominent singers as Anita O'Day, June Christy and Julie London.
Born Mary Loutsenhizer, she was raised in Jefferson City and learned to play the clarinet while in her youth before deciding on a singing career. Upon graduation from high school, she worked as a secretary while pursuing her musical career performing in a local college band at the University of Missouri.
Frustrated by the lack of vocal musical opportunities in her hometown, Connor pulled up stakes and headed east in 1949. She was hired by Claude Thornhill and spent the next five years touring with his orchestra. Then, while appearing with Jerry Wald’s band, she received the phone call she had been dreaming of. June Christy, Stan Kenton’s current vocalist, had heard Connor on a radio broadcast and recommended her to the orchestra leader, who chose her from dozens of other vocalists eager for the job.
Connor’s ten-month stint with Kenton during 1952-53 won her national recognition. Her haunting recording of Joe Greene’s ballad “All About Ronnie” announced the arrival of a fresh new artist. But the years of one-night stands, fast food and interminable bus rides soured Connor’s enthusiasm for life on the road.
Determined to forge a career as a solo artist, Connor returned to New York and signed with Bethlehem Records in 1953. Her three albums for that independent label, featuring Ellis Larkins, Herbie Mann, Kai Winding and J.J.Johnson, established her as a major jazz voice.
In 1956, she began a six-year association with Atlantic Records that produced a string of chart-topping recordings arranged by Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Jimmy Jones and Ralph Sharon, showcasing a host of jazz legends - John Lewis, Oscar Pettiford, Lucky Thompson, Phil Woods, Kenny Burrell, Milt Hinton, Clark Terry, Oliver Nelson and, in a particularly memorable pairing, Maynard Ferguson’s big band.
The rock youth quake of the late ’60s and ’70s derailed the careers of many jazz artists, but Connor persisted, performing in clubs, touring Japan and recording for a variety of labels. The early ’80s resurgence of interest in jazz singing revitalized her career, leading to a brace of highly-acclaimed Contemporary CDs. In the ’90s she began to record for the Japanese label Alfa. Connor recorded two CDs with jazz pianist Hank Jones and his trio, “Angel Eyes” and “As Time Goes By.” She then recorded two additional CDs with her own quintet, “My Funny Valentine,” arranged by Richard Rodney Bennett, and “Blue Moon,” a collection of movie songs, arranged by Michael Abene.
The new Millennium brought the timeless singer into yet another recording agreement, signing with the New York based High Note Records in 2000. Her first release, “Haunted Heart,” also arranged by Michael Abene, was released September 2001, and a second CD "I Walk With Music," was released in 2002, also with Michael Abene arranging and producing.
Chris then returned to another Japanese label and recorded "Lullaby Of Birdland" for King Record Co.Ltd, with pianist/arranger David Matthews. It was released in September 2003. She recorded nearly three dozen albums, achieved a following internationally and continued to perform into the mid-2000's.
Connor's last public show came in 2004, when she performed on a New York club stage with noted jazz vocalist Anita O'Day. She died Aug.29, 2009 at Community Medical Center in Toms River, N.J. following a long bout with cancer. She was 81. (Info mainly chrissconnorjazz.co)