This week our KEXP Documentary series “Sirens of Jazz” continues with a look at singer Anita O’Day. Her voice was somehow both sultry and wholesome, and she was considered a rebel for her onstage “antics”. When she joined famous drummer Gene Krupa’s band in 1941, most female jazz singers just stood still and looked pretty. Anita loved to dance along with the songs (shocking!) and flirt with the audience. She was the first Caucasian female to perform a hit song onstage with an African-American artist — trumpeter Roy Eldridge — for the hit song “Let Me Off Uptown.”
As her career blossomed, she continued to be seen as an outlaw for experimenting with drugs – first marijuana and then later she became hooked on heroin. Instead of cowering, Anita took advantage of the extra publicity. Her openness about her addiction added to the shock of the general public. After kicking heroin, Anita continued to perform and release albums up until her death at age 86.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers. With assistance from John Felthous, Abe Beeson, Tiffany Grobelski and Mary Janisch. Executive Producer is Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.