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Chanteuse Blossom Dearie Dies At 82

With her wispy, delicate voice, Blossom Dearie was a darling of the jazz world for decades. The cabaret singer and pianist died Saturday of natural causes in her home in New York City. She was 82.

She was a small woman with a small voice, but blogger Marc Myers says it was a distinctive style that made you want to listen.

"Blossom's voice always had this pixie-like sense of wonderment," Myers says. "Her voice was sort of helium high."

Myers says that when Dearie began singing in the '40s and '50s, some of the most acclaimed female jazz vocalists were hitting their stride.

"She sort of walked among giants. You had Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald. But Blossom stood out by fusing cabaret and jazz together," Myers says. "She had this whimsy, but this very deep passion."

Dearie Makes A Hit With 'Hip'

When she was a little girl in upstate New York, Dearie studied classical piano, but quickly gravitated to jazz. She liked to have fun and was known for her wit. Over the years, she worked with two other funny jazz musicians: Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg. She recorded one of the songs they wrote for themselves, called "I'm Hip."

"We both thought it would last a season after people got the joke," Dorough says. "Blossom made a little hit out of it."

Later on, when Dorough was hired to write the music for the kids' show Schoolhouse Rock, he asked Dearie to sing a couple of songs.

Describing Dearie's voice in The New Yorker, Whitney Balliett once wrote, "It speaks of porcelain and Limoges."

A No-Nonsense Performer

But this delicate artist was also very demanding. In the 1970s, she started her own record label, Daffodil, and she had a reputation for not tolerating people talking or smoking during her shows. Dearie would stop in the middle of a song and tell people to be quiet.

Dearie was a regular act at a club in Manhattan up until just a few years ago. She told Marian McPartland, host of NPR's Piano Jazz, that in later years, as she sang her collection of popular standards, her fans were always respectful.

"They're very aware of the music," Dearie said. "They know everything. I always say, 'I'm not afraid of forgetting the lyrics, because if I forget the lyrics, somebody in the audience knows the lyrics.' They cherish these songs. My audience is very with it."

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Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.