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September 2017 Issue
August 2017
JAZZIZ July Issue

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Bronx Street Named After Legendary Vocalist Maxine Sullivan

By Matt Micucci

 

On Saturday Oct. 10, Ritter Place and Prospect Avenue in the Bronx was renamed to honor Maxine Sullivan, the late jazz singer regarded as one of the best jazz vocalists of the 1930s. She lived at 818 Ritter Place for over forty years.

Maxine Sullivan was an American jazz vocalist, active for half a century from the mid thirties to just before her death, and is considered a precursor to later vocalists such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald.

In the 1940s, Sullivan and her husband, the bassist John Kirby were featured on the radio program Flow Gently Sweet Rhythm, the first black jazz stars to have their own weekly radio series. The two had met at the Onyx Club in New York, where she became a featured vocalist shortly after the success of her early recordings with Claude Thornhill in 1937.

Throughout her career, she recorded with the bands of such greats as Benny Carter and Teddy Wilson. As a solo artist, she performed at several New York City jazz clubs and toured Europe.

From 1958 Sullivan gave up her singing career and worked as a nurse, until returning in 1966, performing in jazz festivals alongside her fourth husband Cliff Jackson. She continued to be active until shortly before her death.

Aside from her work as a vocalist, she also successfully made occasional leaps to acting, which culminated in a nomination for the 1979 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in My Old Friends.

Maxine Sullivan was also very active in her local community, and in the 1970s she founded The House That Jazz Built, a non-profit community center, which became a safe haven for neighborhood youth.

She died aged 75 in 1987 in New York after suffering a seizure and was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998.

© 2017 JAZZIZ Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

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