Living jazz legend finds success on comeback trail

Kansas City singer Myra Taylor enjoying renewed popularity

— Life keeps getting sweeter for Kansas City comeback queen Myra Taylor. At 85, the jazz and blues vocalist is enjoying her biggest burst of popularity since she lit up the scene with Harlan Leonard's Kansas City Rockets in the 1940s � and the long-delayed accolades keep coming.

Taylor recently won two top awards from Living Blues magazine, a bimonthly publication of the University of Mississippi's Center for the Study of Southern Culture.


AP Photo

Singer Myra Taylor, a link to the heyday of Kansas City jazz, performs at Washington Square Park in Kansas City, Mo. Taylor, who released a CD last year, is celebrating two top awards from Living Blues magazine.

Taylor was named in the magazine's annual critics' poll as Best Female Blues Artist, and she tied with R&B; icon Ike Turner as Comeback Artist of the Year.

"I just couldn't hardly believe it," Taylor said. "I cried. I just couldn't imagine me winning. So I just cried. And I'll probably cry again."

Scott Barretta, editor of Living Blues, said the awards were richly deserved.

"She's a rarity nowadays," Barretta said. "It's remarkable her talent has remained intact. She's like a window back into the 1940s. And she's someone who has a lot of class."

The comeback award is certainly appropriate. Taylor, who had retired into relative obscurity a few years ago, released a CD last year � her first American recording since 1947. A gate in the 18th and Vine Historic District was named in her honor. She plays regular gigs around town and has become a popular informal oral historian of Kansas City jazz, one of the few living links to the glory days.

And, as the Best Female Blues Artist award shows, Taylor has lost none of her musical chops. In winning the award, Taylor beat out several vocalists with higher national profiles, including Koko Taylor and Etta James. Taylor's Kansas City style helped set her apart from the competition, Barretta said.

"She's not a down-in-the-alley type of blues singer," Barretta said. "She comes out of the era of big bands and elaborate orchestrations. ... She's someone who, in the broad Kansas City tradition, mixes blues and jazz. It's an era in which most of her peers are no longer with us."

Chuck Haddix, director of the Marr Sound Archive at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and host of the "Fish Fry" radio show on KCUR-FM, chose Taylor's recent CD, "My Night to Dream," as one of his favorite records of the past year.

"It's a great record," Haddix said. "It's very different from what's being recorded today. It's the real deal, and it swings." A brief ceremony honoring Taylor for the awards occurred recently at her concert in Washington Square Park near Crown Center.

"I'm living large!" Taylor exulted. "I'm living large, and I'm happy, happy, happy, happy!"


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