Maxine Marietta <I>Williams</I> Sullivan

Maxine Marietta Williams Sullivan

Homestead, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 7 Apr 1987 (aged 75)
New York, New York County (Manhattan), New York, USA
Burial Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester County, New York, USA
Memorial ID 10643253 · View Source
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Jazz Vocalist and Entertainer. She is best remembered for her 1937 recording of a swing version of the Scottish folk song "Loch Lomond" and was considered by many as one of the best jazz vocalists of the 1930s. Born Marietta Williams, she began her music career in Pennsylvania singing in her uncle's band, 'The Red Hot Peppers,' in which she occasionally played the flugelhorn and the valve trombone. In the mid-1930s she was discovered by Gladys Mosier who introduced her to pianist and musical arranger Claude Thornhill, which led to her first recordings made in June of 1937. Shorty thereafter she became a featured vocalist at the Onyx Club in New York City, New York and soon formed a professional and close personal relationship with bassist John Kirby, to whom she was married from 1938 to 1941. Her early success labeled her style and soon led her to sing similar swing arrangements of traditional folk tunes, such as "Darling Nellie Gray," "I Dream of Jeanie," "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes," and "If I Had a Ribbon Bow." Her early popularity also led to a brief appearance in the movies "St. Louis Blues" (1938) and "Going Places" (1938) opposite jazz entertainer Louis Armstrong and future US President Ronald Reagan. In 1939 she moved back to New York City to appear on Broadway with Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman in "Swinging the Dream," a jazz adaptation of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." In 1940 she and her husband were featured on the radio program "Flow Gently Sweet Rhythm," making them the first black jazz stars to have their own weekly radio series. During the 1940s she performed with a wide range of bands, including those of Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, and Jimmie Lunceford. She also performed at many of New York's hottest jazz spots such as the Ruban Bleu, the Village Vanguard, the Blue Angel, and the Penthouse. In 1950 she married pianist Cliff Jackson and in 1953 she starred in the play "Take a Giant Step." In 1956 she moved away from her earlier singing style and recorded the album "A Tribute to Andy Razaf" that demonstrated her interpretations of a dozen tunes featuring the lyrics of the poet and lyricist Andy Razaf. The album also highlighted the music of Fats Waller, including versions of "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," "How Can you Face Me?," "My Fate is in Your Hands," "Honeysuckle Rose," "Ain't Misbehavin'," and "Blue Turning Grey Over You." Shortly afterward she retired from music to raise her daughter and spend more time at home. During this time she studied to be a nurse and served as a school health counselor. Her music career did not reassert itself until 1966, when she began appearing at jazz festivals alongside her husband. She continued to perform throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, including tours of Europe and Japan, and produced an output of recordings during the 1980s despite being over 70 years old and received Grammy Award nominations in 1982, 1985, and 1986. In 1979 she was nominated for a Tony Award for Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in "My Old Friends." She participated in a documentary film portrait, "Maxine Sullivan: Love to Be in Love," shortly before her death. She died of a seizure for which she was hospitalized and did not recover. In 1998 she was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.

Bio by: William Bjornstad




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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Ronald Walton
  • Added: 20 Mar 2005
  • Find A Grave Memorial 10643253
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Maxine Marietta Williams Sullivan (13 May 1911–7 Apr 1987), Find A Grave Memorial no. 10643253, citing Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester County, New York, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .