Helen Merrill's first recording was with the Earl Hines band in 1952 and would be the start of a busy recording and performing career lasting six decades. She signed with the EmArcy label (an offshoot of Mercury Records) in 1954, becoming the first artist to release a single on the newly-formed imprint, "Alone Together" with the B-side "This Is My Night To Cry." Her self-titled first album for EmArcy included trumpeter Clifford Brown and bassist Oscar Pettiford.
Merrill's debut found such success that EmArcy signed her for additional albums, including one produced and arranged by Gil Evans. It was expressive, emotional approach to songs that made her such a sought-after singer. Listening to her sing is almost like watching a film; her often heart-broken character coming alive through the song. She could swing just as comfortably as she caressed a ballad. She would work with the cream of the instrumentalist crop throughout her career...Frank Wess, Marian McPartland, Bill Evans, Quincy Jones, Hal Mooney, Gil Evans, Milt Hinton, and Osie Johnson. One of her most notable projects was "Duets" released in 1989 with bassist Ron Carter.
Throughout her lifetime, Helen Merrill has taken her music worldwide, even co-hosting a radio program while she lived in Japan. She is a first generation American and her 1999 release "Jelena Ana Milcetic" paid tribute to her Croatian heritage and blended jazz, pop, folk, and traditional Croatian music. Merrill was inducted as a Living Legend into ASCAP's Jazz Hall of Fame in 2014.