Cookie consent

We use cookies to improve your experience on this website. By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies. Tell me more | Cookie preferences

Jazz vocalist Gloria Lynne dies at 83

Story highlights

  • "A jazz legend," says B.B. King
  • But Harry Belafonte show gave her a big break, her son says
  • Lynne last performed on August 27 at 54 Below in New York
  • Lynne won an amateur contest at age 15 at Harlem's Apollo Theater

Jazz vocalist Gloria Lynne, whose career included dozens of albums and whose signature song was "I Wish You Love," has died, her son said.

She was 83.

Lynne died Tuesday night at Columbus Long-Term Acute Care Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, of a heart attack.

Born in New York in 1929, she sang as a child in church, then won an amateur contest at age 15 at Harlem's Apollo Theater, said her son, P.J. Allen.

The prize: $15, $5 of which she lost when her mother slapped the bills out of her hand upon discovering she had entered the contest without telling her.

Gloria Lynne

Soon, she was signed by Everest Records.

"But her real break came with Harry Belafonte's 'Strolling '20s,'" Allen said, referring to the 1966 television special that included Duke Ellington, Sidney Poitier, Nipsey Russell, Sammy Davis Jr. and Diahann Carroll. "After that, she got the song, 'I Wish You Love,'" by Charles Trenet.

Lynne was also an accomplished writer, said Allen, who cited her autobiography and said she was working on a sitcom to have been called "Bus Buddies" at the time of her death. It was "about the time in her life when she rode a bus, when she was out of the business for a little while," he said. "She met a lot of people, some of whom were very funny."

Though her songs were widely popular, Lynne made her living neither through her writing nor through her nearly 400 recordings, but through live performances, Allen said. "She got ripped off," he said about the recordings. Everest has since closed.

Still, the lack of payoff "never soured her on the business," he said. "She once quoted to me a line from the movie, 'All About Eve.' One of the characters says, 'At least you get applause.' That was always her."

Lynne herself cited the problem in a 2009 interview for the Apollo Theater and Columbia Center for Oral History Collection. "I have never made any money making records, and I've made a bunch of them," she said.

But, she added, she always had a response when people would ask her why she continued to sing.

"I said because it was my way of getting music out of me onto the public. Other than that, I wouldn't have anything. If I had stopped and said, 'Well, no, they're not paying me. I'm not going to do any—' I couldn't do that. I couldn't throw away what gift I had because of the money. So God gave me another way. I worked for Bank of America, I did temp work, anything I could do."

Lynne last performed on August 27 at 54 Below in New York, said Todd Barkan, who produced the show and knew her for 40 years.

"She was really a giant of American jazz singing, but she never really got the recognition she so richly deserved, and lived the last 20 or 30 years of her life in relative obscurity," he said. "It's a brutal business and Gloria was a victim of that brutality, for sure. But she was one of our greatest singers, she was a true angel, no doubt about it."

"Gloria Lynne was one of the great female jazz vocalists & lyricists of our time," said blues legend B.B. King. "She left the world with her beautiful music and will be missed by all the people whose lives she touched. Gloria was truly a jazz legend."

Publicist Dell Long, who worked for Lynne since the 1990s, said funeral plans were being finalized.

"She lived her song, 'I Wish You Love,'" Long said. "She's all about pure love. Her voice never petered. To this day, she sang those original notes like she did in her teens and 20s."

Long added, "She said when she sang the notes she heard them for the first time."

People we lost in 2013

      People we lost in 2013

    • James Avery during 2005 BET Awards - Red Carpet at Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by L. Cohen/WireImage)

      Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died. He was 67.
    • John Cordice

      Dr. John W.V. Cordice, the surgeon who operated on Dr. Martin Luther King after he was stabbed in Harlem in 1958, died in Iowa. Cordice was 95.
    • Joseph Ruskin, who acted in 25 films and 124 television shows, died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital Saturday, December 28, according to  SAG-AFTRA. Ruskin was 89.

      Joseph Ruskin died of natural causes in a Santa Monica, California, hospital. He was 89.
    • Jeff Pollack

      Jeffrey Ian Pollack, who directed the popular 1990s films "Booty Call" and "Above the Rim" and produced "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" has died. He was 54.
    • FILE - In this July 26, 2002 file photo, Russian weapon designer Mikhail Kalashnikov presents his legendary assault rifle to the media while opening the exhibition "Kalashnikov - legend and curse of a weapon" at a weapons museum in Suhl, Germany. Mikhail Kalashnikov, whose work as a weapons designer for the Soviet Union is immortalized in the name of the world's most popular firearm, has died at the age of 94, Monday Dec. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer, File)

      Mikhail Kalashnikov, the Russian gun designer whose AK-47 rifle became the weapon of choice for many national armies and guerrillas around the world, died.
    • Ned Vizzini, who shot to fame at a young age for his teenage novels focusing on youth depression and anxieties, committed suicide at age 32.
    • single use image -- do not reuse

      Actor Daniel Escobar, who played a teacher in "Lizzie McGuire," died from complications of diabetes in Los Angeles. He was 49.
    • Ronnie Biggs poses for a photo

      "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs -- one of the most notorious British criminals of the 20th century -- has died, his publisher told CNN. He was 84.
    •  UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Ray Price Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

      Ray Price, the Nashville star whose trademark "shuffle" beat became a country music staple, has died at age 87, his agent said.
    • HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 30: Peter O'Toole poses as his hand and footprints are enshrined in concrete at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre on April 30, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/PictureGroup)

      Actor Peter O'Toole died peacefully in a hospital at 81 years old.
    • Jim Hall performs during the Newport Jazz Festival 2013 at Fort Adams State Park on August 4, 2013.

      Jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who played with the jazz greats of the 20th century and influenced the younger ones, has died, his family said. He was 83.
    • (FILE PHOTO) Former South African President Nelson Mandela Has Died LONDON - JUNE 26: Nelson Mandela leaves the InterContinental Hotel after a photoshoot with celebrity photographer Terry O'Neil on June 26, 2008 in London, England. Mandela is in London in advance of the 46664 concert being held at Hyde Park on Friday the 27th June to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 90th Birthday. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

      Freedom fighter, statesman, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.
    • Actor Paul Walker, who shot to fame as star of the high-octane street racing franchise "Fast & Furious," died in a car crash in Southern California. He was 40.
    • sot jane kean honymooners larry king live archive 2003_00002127.jpg

      Jane Kean, who played diverse roles during a long career but was best known as Trixie on the TV revival of "The Honeymooners," has died. She was 90.