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On this date in 1928, Etta Jone, a Black jazz singer, was born in Aiken, South Carolina.
At age three, her family moved to New York City. With their support, she entered a talent contest when she was 15. Although she didn't win, she got a job as the newest and youngest member of a big band led by pianist Buddy Johnson. She stayed with the band for over a year and, in 1944, recorded her first album. Jones continued recording with musicians such as Barney Bigard, J. C. Heard, and Earl "Fatha" Hines. In 1952, she went solo as a singer but often worked odd jobs as an elevator operator, a seamstress, and an album stuffer to make ends meet.
Jones’ big break came in 1960 with her recording of “Don't Go To Strangers,” which sold a million and earned her a gold record. She continued recording and touring, and in 1968, while in Washington, D.C., for a gig, she was teamed up with saxophonist Houston Person and his trio. Some say that the chemistry between Etta and Houston was suggestive of Billie Holiday and Lester Young. The two decided to stay together, a partnership that lasted nearly 29 years. During the early 1990s, she surfaced from a severe bout with cancer with a new passion for life and a spirit for musical adventure.
She took more solo jobs and began collaborating with pianist Benny Green and bluesman Charles Brown. While her career spans 50 years, she never achieved fame and fortune. Many felt it was because she pursued singing in its purest form.
Etta Jones, the productive jazz vocalist whose soulful, blues-influenced recordings won her praise and two Grammy nominations, died on October 16, 2001, of complications from cancer. She was 72.