b. La Velle McKinnie, 22 May 1944, Kankakee, Illinois, USA. Born into a musical family, McKinnie was a child prodigy, singing at the age of three, taking piano lessons from four, and at five was a member of the Little Black Angels gospel group with who she appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Six years later she was studying at Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music. As a young teenager, she sang classical music including oratorios and opera, appearing in productions of Handel’s Messiah, Verdi’s Tosca, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, and Bizet’s Carmen. Earning a living in music, however, thrust her onto the nightclub and hotel lounge circuit with engagements in Chicago, Dallas and Las Vegas. She visited Europe, becoming very popular in France and decided to base herself in Paris. Her repertoire had by now encompassed the great standards of popular song with touches of jazz, the blues and gospel. She ventured into a rock funk mode for a time, but her career faltered a little, reviving in the late 80s by which time she was based in Geneva, Switzerland. She recorded with Ray Brown, Guy Lafitte, and others, and returned to Paris for a 1992 engagement with Archie Shepp, playing in Black Ballad at the Casino de Paris. She also made a hit at the 1994 Marciac jazz festival. She has worked extensively on radio and television both on-screen and on advertising jingles.
Among her single recordings have been winners of the Disques D’Or Européen (1980 and 1983) while her album appearances include guest spots on the rock operas Deamonia and Nostradamus, and backing to Dee Dee Bridgewater and Ray Charles. Her albums under her own name clearly demonstrate her highly developed sense of style. Always musical, she ranges through her repertoire with flair and great zest. Her piano playing is sure and sound as befits one with her background. Although her name remains little known outside France and Switzerland, her reputation has gradually spread throughout Europe.