June Christy — From Songbird To Cool Jazz Soloist

One of the very best of the singers who successfully managed the transition from big band songbird to solo jazz vocalist was June Christy, whose first high profile job was as the replacement for a future legend. But she would go on to a long and notable career of her own, winning a lot of fans with her warm and accessible voice and style.

When young Shirley Luster moved to Chicago from her home town in downstate Illinois during the war years, it was to pursue a musical career that she’d started while still in high school. Calling herself Sharon Leslie, she did well in the big city, appearing for a while in a singing group and later finding work singing for a local orchestra.

Her big break occurred in 1945 when she heard that Stan Kenton’s vocalist — Anita O’Day, who was already building into stardom — was leaving. Shirley/Sharon got the job, changed her name once again to June Christy, and began what would be a star-making experience.

Kenton’s group was progressive and respected by pros in addition to being popular with fans, and over the next few years she would be front and center on many hits, including “How High The Moon” and “Tampico.” (Video below.) Many of her best songs featured arrangements by Pete Rugolo, who would continue to work regularly with her even in later years as she pursued a solo career.

By the 1950s, Christy was still working off and on with Kenton’s latest band but she was also beginning to make it as a jazz soloist, marked by her breakout album, Something Cool. For the next decade she continued to enjoy a career that included good record sales and successful tours, along with many appearances on TV, before slowing down in the late 1960s. In later years she would still make appearances from time to time, and in the 1970s even made it back into the recording studio before finally retiring for good. She died in 1990.

June Christy – “Midnight Sun”


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