Marlena Shaw, legendary “California Soul” singer, dies at 81


Jazz singer Marlena Shaw dies at 81

Marlena Shaw, jazz singer known for “California Soul,” dies at 81


Legendary jazz singer Marlena Shaw, known for her songs “California Soul” and “Woman of the Ghetto” died at the age of 81 on Friday, her daughter announced in a video on Facebook.

“It’s with a very heavy heart for myself and my family I announce that our beloved mother, your beloved icon and artist Marlena Shaw has passed away,” Marla Bradshaw, her daughter, said. “She went listening to some of her favorite songs.”

Bradshaw said she did not want to go into too many details but wanted to assure fans her mother’s death “was peaceful” and that the family was “at peace.” 

Marlena Shaw
American soul jazz and blues singer Marlena Shaw photographed on May 11, 1977.

Matt Green / Getty Images

The musician — who influenced music in the jazz, soul, disco and R&B genres — rose to popularity in the 1960s after she was noticed by the Chess Records label. She sang her recognizable “California Soul” with the label before switching to a more jazz-oriented label.

Shaw’s music spanned generations and was often featured and sampled in popular media, TV commercials and other songs. Her lyrics often communicated the strength of the Black American community and Black women at a time when there was a great racial divide in the country and its politics.

In total, Shaw put together 17 albums with eight different record labels.

Verve Records, who she worked with in 1987, put out a statement about Shaw’s death, celebrating her contribution to the label’s history.

“We are saddened by the passing of Marlena Shaw, a wonderful singer whose ‘California Soul’ is as popular today as it ever was and whose album ‘It Is Love: Recorded Live At Vine St.’ helped relaunch the Verve label in 1987,” the label posted on Facebook.

Bradshaw said she and her twin sister happily celebrated their birthdays with their mom the day before she passed, which gave her a final chance to spend time with those she loved.

“Miss Shaw is in heaven,” her daughter said.


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