TSL Black History Month in Focus: Al Jarreau

This is part of The Shadow League’s Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.

On February 12, 2017, jazz and R&B legend Al Jarreau died in Los Angeles, California after being admitted to a local area hospital for exhaustion. He was 76 years old.

His smooth vocals were his calling card. For many in the younger crowd, Jarreau is not a familiar name. Even though he continued touring right up until the time immediately before his passing, few young folks know of his impact. But Jarreau is more legendary than the vast majority of the artists who appeared on The Grammys the evening of his death.

Though I remember him as a jazz legend, Jarreau achieved success as a Pop and R&B artist while still keeping it jazzy. The six-time Grammy Award-winner’s catalog would be the envy of any creative mind; 17 studio albums, five live albums, and an as yet untold number of compilation albums, are nothing short of amazing. His most recent Grammy victory came in 2007 for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance for “God Bless the Child.”

Tack on the hit singles, guest appearances and soundtrack offerings, and you see that he was way ahead of his time. Everyone from George Benson and Chick Corea to Sister Sledge and Quincy Jones would seek out Jarreau’s signature vocals for inclusion on their own works. 

Though the ’80s were dominated by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie from a pop music perspective, Al Jarreau was for grown folks. In fact, my fondest memories of the crooner come from my mother, who would play his records when she came home from work.

My mind’s eye can still see the way he soothed her worries away as the smoke from the Virginia Slims cigarettes in the ashtray danced with that of the Egyptian Musk incense, wafting out of the window in unison. I also enjoyed making her laugh away her cares while contorting my face like Al when singing ‘We’re in this Love Together’.

Lyrical beauty and vocal flexibility, and perhaps was the most commercially successful scat singer since Scatman Corothers, Jarreau’s influence is apparent in the styling of many vocalists, Anita Baker and Kem being most notable among them.

He will be sorely missed by many lovers of great music from across the globe.

Rest in Power, Al Jarreau.

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