Sandra King

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With her Rapunzel-like red hair and stunning face and figure, Sandra King could have been an actress or a model -- but her voice was so much stronger than any of those other attributes that music always…
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With her Rapunzel-like red hair and stunning face and figure, Sandra King could have been an actress or a model -- but her voice was so much stronger than any of those other attributes that music always beckoned as a career. Born Sandra Fairbrass in London in 1950, she was the granddaughter of a composer and song and dance man from the British music hall, and her brother Richard entered the business as a pianist and later became an employee of the Chappell's music publishing empire. By 1963, at age 13, Sandra King was cutting songwriters' demos, and she made her professional performing debut at age 17 in a musical play broadcast by the BBC over British television. A little bit later, she was heard at a jazz club by visiting American singer Mark Murphy, who brought her together with Scottish-born lawyer turned jazz pianist Pat Smythe, a veteran of Joe Harriott's band who was also established as an arranger and accompanist.

Smythe took her under his wing, the start of what turned into a 15-year partnership. He encouraged her to audition for saxophonist/club owner Ronnie Scott, who booked the 17-year-old for a three-week engagement at his club, on a bill with Horace Silver. She later appeared with Stan Getz and Kenny Burrell. King made her recording debut in 1969 with an album of songs by Henry Mancini -- clearly, she was bucking the trends and tastes of the majority of her generation, which ran more toward rock & roll and rock sounds, but she never broke stride, and with help from admirers who included Mancini and singer Tony Bennett, she built a serious musical career on several continents.

Cracking the United States took until April 4, 1982, when she made her American debut at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., with a concert of songs by Vernon Duke, which resulted in the release of her second album, featuring accompaniment by Smythe (who passed away the following year) and Tommy Cecil. There were lean years in between and after when she worked at various book and music stores in New York, but she won over critics and audiences in that toughest of American cities, in part with a series of engagements for which her accompanist was no less than quintuple-threat jazz-classical-pop composer/arranger (and sometime singer himself) Richard Rodney Bennett. With more than 30 years in the business behind her, King remains a compelling vocal presence, and a talent unique in her generation.