Pioneering, Grammy-Winning Jazz Singer Jon Hendricks Dies at 96

Jon Hendricks AP

Jon Hendricks, the pioneering jazz singer and lyricist who with the trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross popularized the “vocalese” singing style in which words were added to instrumental songs, has died. He was 96.

His daughter, Aria Hendricks, confirmed his death to the New York Times. She said he died Wednesday at a New York City hospital.

Hendricks found fame in the 1950s and ’60s teaming with Dave Lambert and Annie Ross. Their interracial trio became one of the most celebrated jazz vocal groups ever, and among the latter-day stars they influenced were Joni Mitchell and Manhattan Transfer.

The trio’s first album, “Sing a Song of Basie,” won acclaim for its use of vocalese, in which the voices mimic the instrumental parts. Hendricks wrote the lyrics to existing Basie songs, and the three recorded their own voices in layers instead of using backup singers.

Others experimented with vocalese before Hendricks, but he is widely regarded as the father of the spirited singing style for popularizing it. In the 1980s, he collaborated with Manhattan Transfer on an album called “Vocalese” that won three Grammys, one for Hendricks himself.

Hendricks won a Grammy in 1986 for best male jazz vocal performance of 1985 for his work with Bobby McFerrin on “Another Night in Tunisia,” a cut on Manhattan Transfer’s “Vocalese.” Hendricks wrote all the lyrics for the album, to music by Ray Charles, Quincy Jones and others. It was nominated for a near-record 12 Grammys and won three.

In 1997, he was one of three featured singers to perform Wynton Marsalis’ “Blood on the Fields” on a CD and on tour in the United States and Europe. That same year the three-hour work, which tells the history of blacks in America, won the Pulitzer Prize for music.

He also directed his own vocalese group in Toledo composed of students and local singers. They performed in France and Italy and with the Toledo Symphony.

Hendricks won awards worldwide. The World War II veteran was given France’s highest honor, the French Legion of Honor in 2004, at a performance in Normandy to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

He called that day one of his greatest thrills.

SOURCE: Associated Press