Anita Belle Colton (October 18, 1919 – November 23, 2006), known professionally as Anita O’Day, was an American jazz singer and self proclaimed “song stylist” widely admired for her sense of rhythm and dynamics, and her early big band appearances that shattered the traditional image of the “girl singer”. Refusing to pander to any female stereotype, O’Day presented herself as a “hip” jazz musician, wearing a band jacket and skirt as opposed to an evening gown. She changed her surname from Colton to O’Day, pig Latin for “dough”, slang for money.
O’Day, along with Mel Tormé, is often grouped with the West Coast cool school of jazz. Like Tormé, O’Day had some training in jazz drums (courtesy of her first husband Don Carter); her longest musical collaboration was with jazz drummer John Poole. While maintaining a central core of hard swing, O’Day’s skills in improvisation of rhythm and melody rank her among the pioneers of bebop.
She cited Martha Raye as the primary influence on her vocal style, also expressing admiration for Mildred Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. She always maintained that the accidental excision of her uvula during a childhood tonsillectomy left her incapable of vibrato, and unable to maintain long phrases. That botched operation, she claimed, forced her to develop a more percussive style based on short notes and rhythmic drive. However, when she was in good voice she could stretch long notes with strong crescendos and a telescoping vibrato, e.g. her live version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, captured in Bert Stern’s film Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
Columbia and Capitol Records: 1941–1946 2 albums
Signature, Coral, Advance, Alto, Mercury Records: 1946–1951 2 albums
Clef and Norgran Records: 1951–1956 5 albums
Verve Records: 1956–1964 16 albums
BASF/MPS Records: 1970 1 album
Emily Records,(Emily Productions) : 1975 – 2006 13 albums
Dobre Records 2 albums, 1 in 1977 and 1 in 1978
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Anita was born to Irish parents, James and Gladys M. (née Gill) Colton in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Chicago, Illinois, during the Great Depression. Colton took the first chance to leave her unhappy home when, at age 14, she became a contestant in the popular Walk-a-thons as a dancer. She toured with the Walk-a-thons circuits for two years, occasionally being called upon to sing. In 1934, she began touring the Midwest as a marathon dance contestant.
In 1936, she left the endurance contests, determined to become a professional singer. She started out as a chorus girl in such Uptown venues as the Celebrity Club and the Vanity Fair and then found work as a singer and waitress at the Ball of Fire, the Vialago, and the Planet Mars.