A lot of different words are used by music critics when describing a performer, but while gathering info for this piece I was a little surprised to see ‘subtle’ applied to the singing style of jazz vocalist Chris Conner. On the other hand, it does seem to fit the talented singer, who died in 2009 after a career that stretched for more than a half-century. She had a cool, laid-back singing style that complemented her smoky voice, and it helped her become a long-time favorite of many knowledgeable jazz fans.
She started life in Kansas City, Missouri, as Mary Loutsenhizer, and was into music from an early age but not as a singer. Instead she spent many years studying clarinet, and by the approach of adulthood she’d become very proficient. However, at about the time World War II was ending she’d reached college age, and by then had become a singer. Over the next few years she gained valuable experience while performing with various groups near and around campus, including one led by future star Bob Brookmeyer.
By the late 1940s she was calling herself Chris Conner and had moved to New York to give professional music a try. Within a few years she had worked with big-name bandleaders like Claude Thornhill and Stan Kenton, who gave her a job after a recommendation by her friend and fellow songbird, June Christy. She also began finding success in the recording studio, continuing to do so through the decade of the 1950s, with solid sellers on songs like “Lush Life,” “Lullaby of Birdland,” and “I Miss You So.”
Although her career peaked during those years, Chris Conner was far from finished. She continued to be a favorite for many fans in subsequent years, and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the 1970s. In her later years she continued to appear from time to time, and was still hitting the recording studio as late as 2002. She was 81 when she died a few years later.