Shirley Horn began leading her own group in the mid-1950s, and in 1960 recorded her first album, Embers and Ashes, which established her reputation as an exceptional and sensitive jazz vocalist. Born in 1934 in Washington, DC, she studied classical piano as a teenager at Howard University's Junior School of Music.
Under the influence of artists such as Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, she then began a career as a jazz pianist and soon after discovered the great expressive power of her voice. When Miles Davis heard Embers and Ashes, he brought her to New York, where she began opening for him at the Village Vanguard. Soon she was performing in major venues throughout the United States and recording with Quincy Jonesfor the Mercury label.
For some years she spent much of her time in Europe, then took a ten-year hiatus to raise her family in Washington. She continued to appear in and around the DC area, and in the 1980s she returned to the recording studio. The overwhelming critical success of her 1981 appearance at Holland's North Sea Jazz Festival reintroduced revitalized her career, allowing her to take to the road with her trio and record more albums.
Her association with the Verve label, which began in 1987, gave a new showcase to her inimitable style and cemented her reputation as a world-class jazz artist. Six of her more than 20 albums have been nominated for Grammy Awards, and she has collaborated with jazz artists including Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Buck Hill, Branford Marsalis, and Toots Thielemans.
In 1990, she collaborated with Miles Davis on her critically acclaimed album You Won't Forget Me. Her 1992 recording Here's to Life was that year's top-selling jazz album and earned a Grammy Award for arranger Johnny Mandel. In 1998, Horn paid tribute to her mentor with the brilliant recording I Remember Miles, winning the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. Health problems in the early 2000s forced her to cut back on her appearances.