The Kennedy Center

Marlena Shaw


While everyone agrees that Marlena Shaw is a national treasure, it’s difficult to categorize her. Both Downbeat and Record World have named her “Best Female Singer,” and many have compared her range, class, and swing to that of eternal jazz lights like Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, and Nancy Wilson. She’s also been called a “soul legend.” The critics use words like “astonishing,” “peerless,” “radiant,” and “powerful,” and marvel at her “soaring sensuality.”

Given her 40-year plus boundary-busting career, such labeling confusion is inevitable. It’s easier and more descriptive to think of Marlena as a natural element: like water. Marlena’s music is unmistakable. Whether she’s singing jazz, R&B, pop, rock, soul, blues, or gospel, her originality makes such distinctions irrelevant, and each song becomes intimate and new.

Marlena is universally admired for her warm, supple voice and relaxed charm; a natural storyteller, her spoken words before, during, and between songs is often hilarious. Marlena’s smiling, spontaneous interplay with both her band and her audience invites the listener in like a valued friend.

Using the experience she received with the Count Basie Band, Marlena has become a favorite singer for big bands. Witness her work with Frank Foster at Lincoln Center and with Diva. But despite her long experience, there’s no slickness or pretense in Marlena’s style. Communicating directly from her heart and soul to yours, her undiminished creative vitality has no artificial ingredients. Like water--or a welcome breath of fresh air--Marlena is an all-natural element.

Watch Past Performances

Video 5/4/2014: Marlena Shaw

One of the first female vocalists signed by Blue Note Records, Marlena Shaw has never strayed far from her jazz roots. A former singer with the Count Basie Orchestra, she has the ability to highlight the dramatic possibilities of the simplest lyric, while her sassy, humorous onstage presence is as entertaining as her singing. She performs with pianist Andrew Adair, bassist James King, and drummer Lennie Robinson. Part of Blue Note at 75.

Marlena Shaw