Of all the great jazz vocalists of the 1950s and '60s, Chris Connor is perhaps the least well-known today. Despite making a string of classic records for Atlantic, she always seems to be mentioned (if at all) after June Christy, Carmen McRae, Chet Baker, Anita O'Day or even Julie London when lists of the top singers of the era are compiled. Still, she was quite popular at the time, and it's very easy to hear why. Though she could swing with anyone, her true greatness came on the slow songs, the torchy ones that come from broken hearts and messed-up lives, and sound best filtered through the blue haze of smoke and low lights. Connor could sing these ballads like Hank Aaron hit home runs: effortlessly and with loads of power. Her deep and rich voice caressed the words tenderly and with great care, giving the feeling that she was singing to you and you alone. Her death this week gives us a chance to look back on some wonderful performances and celebrate her all-too-short career.

from 1955's Chris:
"All About Ronnie"
"Indian Summer"

from 1955's This is Chris:
"Blame It on My Youth"

from 1957's Chris Connor Sings the George Gershwin Almanac of Song:
"I've Got a Crush on You"

From 1958's Chris Craft:
"Moonlight in Vermont"
"Lover Man"

From 1960's A Portrait of Chris:
"Follow Me"
"Here's That Rainy Day"

If you can make it through these songs without tears shorting out your keyboard, you are made of stronger stuff than I am. Finding her records may not be an easy task but it's well worth the effort. All About Chris is a nice collection of Connor's early work on Bethlehem, Warm Cool: The Atlantic Years is a fine overview of her years spent on the label.