Tuesday, October 25, 2011


After Mrs. Henry’s funeral last month, her family and friends gathered at a small hall in Southwest Detroit to unwind and to eat.  Mrs. Henry was a family friend for years. She was 82-year-old. She had three sons and two daughters. She was gentle. When she was younger, Mrs. Henry was the splitting image of Eartha Kitt. Mrs Henry died of breast cancer. She hide the illness from her family. They founded out after it was too late to insist she undergo treatment.

At the after party, Mrs. Henry's husband of 60 years, William Henry Sr., played some of your albums. Mr. King. I didn’t get the titles, but I recall Mr. Henry saying you’re the greatest interpreter of loves songs from the American songbook, a red-blooded American legend.

As Mr. Henry boasted about you, I pictured him and Mrs. Henry snuggled up on the sofa, after the kids were put to bed, listening to you sing love songs. I wondered if Mr. Henry would be okay now that his queen is gone. He'll always have your voice to comfort him.

Mr. King I’ll level with you. I’m only familiar with some of the songs you made classics such as “Unforgettable”, “Mona Lisa” and Mel Torme’s the "Christmas Song".

I attended Natalie Cole's set at the 2003 Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival. She sang those songs while images and video footage of you played on a big screen overhead to the left of the bandstand. It was touching. The stroll down memory lane made Natalie cry.

 Mr. Henry boasting about you being the greatest balladeer of all-times made me curious. I wanted to buy some of your albums. But I was unsure where to start. I emailed my friend, Andy Rothman for some recommendations.

Andy runs the Detroit Groove Society's home concert series. Andy hosts the concerts in the living room of his West Bloomfield Hills home. Danilo Perez, George Cables and Geri Allen have performed there. Next month jazz piano player Gerald Clayton's trio is scheduled to perform. Your spirit should drop by. I’m sure Andy will let it in free.

Andy recommended I track down the trio albums you made for Capitol Records, saying the albums are collector items and maybe hard to find and pricey. Last Friday, I stopped by Melodies and Memories, a record store in Roseville, a small city north of Detroit. 

The owner ushered me to the store’s comprehensive jazz vocal section. Melodies and Memories didn’t have the albums Andy recommended. But they had 15 of your albums, and I purchased “Dear Lonely Hearts and “I Don’t Want to be Hurt Anymore”.

At the checkout counter, I told the owner I’m just getting into your music. I asked if those albums were good starting points. The owner vouched for both and recommended several others, which I’ll buy next week. Over the weekend, I listened to “Dear Lonely Hearts” and “I Don’t Want to be Hurt Anymore”.

If you remove the orchestras, and turn up the tempo a bit, you would've been left with two smoking blues albums. Most of the songs were touching with sad lyrics such as: I don’t want to see tomorrow unless it’s with you, or the ache in my heart is for you.

The only issue I had with the albums was the orchestras that accompanied you. They didn’t add anything novel or interesting to the mix. Your voice was good enough. I hate orchestras backing singers. Nine times out of ten, the orchestras get in the way. 

With a voice as smooth as your voice was, all the instruments and harmonizing in the background was overkill. That aside, I enjoyed “Dear Lonely Hearts and “I Don’t Want to be Hurt Anymore" enough to buy more of you albums.

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