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What I've Learned
Tell me quick, is this a stage name or a real name: Blossom Dearie.
Even if you know who Blossom Dearie is, you might not be sure about the origin of her name.
She was born Margrete Blossom Dearie on April 28, 1924 in East Durham, New York, a village about 150 miles from New York City. Her middle name has to do with pear blossoms, which, according to one story, her father saw shortly before she was born, and according to another, her brothers carried into the house in abundance at the time.
No one in East Durham – or anyplace else for that matter – could have guessed that this tiny, delicate, blond girl would become a powerhouse in the world of jazz.
Blossom is a great example of why no one should give up on a dream, but rather should find ways to turn weaknesses into strengths.
In a way, she is like Anita O'Day. When O'Day was a little girl, a doctor, while removing her tonsils, accidentally cut off her uvula – the little punching-bag shaped thing that hangs down in the back of your mouth. With no uvula, a person can't sing with vibrato.
This didn't stop O'Day. She figured out a way to fake vibrato and grew up to become one of the finest, most celebrated jazz vocalists ever.
Blossom Dearie didn't lose her uvula, but she did have a weak, delicate, thin voice. Even when she was grown, she sounded like a little girl. One critic said that without a microphone, her voice "wouldn't reach the second floor of a doll's house."
Blossom – it seems weird to refer to her as Dearie – being so ill-equipped, could have been told, and probably was, that she was not cut out to be a jazz singer. Her voice was so sensitive that second-hand cigarette smoke could affect it, even cause her to temporarily lose it.
When she sang in supper clubs, the audience was asked to stop smoking 10 minutes before she came on. Can you imagine? But her voice was so sweet and her styling and phrasing so musical, jazz-lovers gladly stubbed out their cigarettes for her.
Another problem was her piano playing. Blossom started piano lessons at age 5 and by age 10 was deeply into Brahms and Chopin. By high school, she was an accomplished classical pianist.
Rather than continue her classical training, she wanted to play jazz. It was the big-band era and the heyday of popular song, and she wanted to be part of it.
A girl with her background might have played jazz in a stilted, controlled, classical fashion, but Blossom was able to adapt her technique into a unique, inviting, individual style. She had a light touch and rarely improvised, but she played with sophistication, employing richly-voiced harmonies.
One of my favorite renderings of hers is Surry with the Fringe on Top. In the musical, Oklahoma, this song (until it's last chorus) is a rousing, jaunty number. Blossom sings the whole thing slowly with a gentle jazz accompaniment, turning it into the sweetest of love songs. I've listened to her sing it at least 100 times and expect to listen another 100 times before I die.
Another gem is the wonderful "Rhode Island is Famous for You."
She made many recordings, including six phenomenal albums for Verve Records. She also had her own recording label, so there are plenty of Blossom Dearie albums available.
Youtube is packed with examples of her work. I recently watched a video of her performing live in 1999, singing – at age 75 – a rendition of Lies of Handsome Men that was so beautiful, it melted the audience into a puddle.
If you are tired of modern over-singers who care more about themselves than they do about a song, give your ears a rest and listen to some Blossom.