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Zoe Francis Remembers
Blossom Dearie

by Howard Lawes



Remembering Blossom Dearie album


It is over 50 years since he American vocalist Blossom Dearie recorded the live album Blossom Time (1966) at Ronnie Scott’s in London at what was reported as a joyous occasion. Blossom sang ballads interspersed with some of her trademark witty and amusing numbers such as When In Rome and I'm Hip, and she followed this up a year later with a second album recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s, Sweet Blossom Dearie (1967). 

Here is a video of Blossom Dearie singing I'm Hip.




Margrete Blossom Dearie was born on April 28, 1924, in East Durham, New York. Her father was of Scottish/Irish descent and her mother from a Norwegian family. Blossom reportedly received her unusual name because of "a neighbor who delivered peach blossoms to her house the day she was born", although she once recalled it was her brothers who brought the flowers to the house. After high school, Blossom moved to New York City. She dropped her first name, Margrete, and began to sing in groups such as the Blue Flames (with the Woody Herman Orchestra) and the Blue Reys (with Alvino Rey's band) before starting her solo career.

By the time she made the 1966 Blossom Time album she was at the height of her popularity in the UK and had also had great success at home in the USA as well as in Europe. In America she had released several albums in quick succession, Once Upon A Summertime on the Verve label in 1958, quickly followed by Give Him The Ooh La La on Polygram. My Gentleman Friend was recorded with guitarist Kenny Burrell and the same year, 1959, Blossom Dearie on Verve again pictured Blossom on the album cover in large spectacles looking for all the world like a secretary typing a letter. The following year Blossom Dearie Sings Comden And Green was a little less successful, perhaps because Blossom's sweet voice did not quite suit the material, but again Kenny Burrell's guitar was a welcome addition on some tracks.


Blossom Dearie singing I Wish You Love in France in 1965.




Perhaps it is time that the work of Blossom Dearie is revisited and in a new release, vocalist Zoe Francis has done just that. She has chosen a selection of tracks from Blossom’s iconic albums and re-visited them in her own, highly acclaimed style. On the album she is accompanied by her partner and renowned guitarist Jim Mullen and two other highly regarded musicians, Barry Green on piano and Mick Hutton on bass.  Some readers may know that Jim Mullen has been hospitalised but a silver lining to this cloudy period was that it gave him the opportunity to write the new arrangements for Zoe's album. 

Zoe explains her attraction to the songs of Blossom Dearie as follows:

"Perhaps her unique voice and being able to accompany herself gave her this great vehicle to carry both songs from the great classic songbook, such as "Sophisticated Lady", "Manhattan" alongside witty songs like "Rhode Island Is Famous For You" with equal conviction. I love that you can feel the sentiment of the story, the well crafted lyric when she sings, the humour and the vulnerability, there is an intimacy, a subtlety often lost into today's culture".

There was often some debate about whether Blossom Dearie was actually a jazz singer, cabaret singer or even pop singer, in fact she was at times all three but certainly a jazz singer according to Miles Davis who is quoted as saying she was "the only white woman who ever had soul" and her piano playing has been likened to that of Bill Evans. 

There is certainly no ambiguity about the singing style of Zoe Francis, her first two albums Looking For A Boy and The Very Thought Of You have received much favourable reaction, Dave Gelly said: "She communicates a love and understanding of classic American song with the lightest of touches". This light touch is perhaps reminiscent of Blossom Dearie but whereas Blossom did not quite get to grips with all the songs on the Comden And Green album Zoe Francis has the power and depth in her voice to do these songs justice. Blossom Dearie’s voice was often described as ‘girlish’, but although light, her diction was superb, the audience could hear every word and her expressiveness conveyed extra meaning to each song.

Here is a video of Zoe Francis singing The Very Thought Of You from her earlier album.




Zoe Francis' diction is equally good and for this she thanks her mother, who as a single parent, raised Zoe and her sister in Lincolnshire.  Zoe started her performing arts as a dancer and it wasn't until later life in New York that she started singing, developing her technique at Barry Harris' Manhattan workshops.  Her enjoyment of singing jazz and the great American songbook led her to jam sessions in New York and gigging in clubs and restaurants such as Arturo in Greenwich Village.  On her return to England, Zoe settled in Bristol and teamed up with super pianist, Dave Newton, before moving to London where she has performed at most of the leading venues including Ronnie Scott's and the 606 Club.

On February 7, 2009, Blossom Dearie died in her sleep of natural causes at her apartment on Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village, New York City after a long illness and failing health.

In Remembering Blossom Dearie, Zoe Francis does not copy the original songs but by the same token, she has not fallen into the trap of making them totally different; she sings the songs as they are meant to be sung and sings them very well. Blossom's piano playing has been described as ‘delicate bebop’ and here, Barry Green on piano complements Zoe's singing beautifully with his own sensitive playing.  Jim Mullen on guitar provides background melody and some nice solos and Mick Hutton's bass is flawless as ever.

The CD cover of Zoe's album reveals that the production of the album has only been possible due to the kindness and generosity of people within the music community and it is really quite inspiring to think that such a thing of beauty can be borne out of the charitable reaction to misfortune.

At the time of writing, Remembering Blossom Dearie is available from Zoe at her live gigs – she will be at the Vortex, Dalston, London on April 21st and London’s 606 Club on April 22nd - and direct from Zoe (click here for her contact email address). Zoe plans to have a website established by the end of April and the album will be generally available then.

Until songs from Remembering Blossom Dearie are available, here's a video of Zoe Francis singing Sleeping Bee.





The track list and original Blossom Dearie albums in which the songs on Remembering Blossom Dearie feature are:

When in Rome and I'm Hip from Blossom Time at Ronnie Scott’s (1966); Try Your Wings, The Riviera and They Say It's Spring from Give Him the Ooh La La (1958); Surrey With the Fringe On Top, Once Upon A Summertime and Tea For Two from Once Upon A Summertime (1958); Lonely Town, Some Other Time and  Lucky To Be Me from Blossom Dearie Sings Comden and Green (1959); Peel Me A Grape from Sweet Blossom Dearie (1967); You Fascinate Me So from My Gentleman Friend (1959);  Lies Of Handsome Men from Blossom's Planet (2000).


Blossom Dearie


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