MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

With her wispy, delicate voice, Blossom Dearie was a darling of the jazz world for decades. The cabaret singer and pianist died on Saturday. She was 82. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has this appreciation.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: She was a small woman with a small voice, but a very distinctive style that made you want to listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEY SAY IT'S SPRING")

BLOSSOM DEARIE: (Singing) Could it be spring, those bells that I can hear ringing?

MARC MYERS: Blossom's voice always had this pixie- like sense of wonderment. Her voice was, sort of, helium high.

BLAIR: Marc Myers writes the blog jazzwax.com. He says when Blossom Dearie began singing in the 1940s and '50s, some of the most acclaimed female jazz vocalists were hitting their stride.

MYERS: She sort of walked among giants. I mean, you had Peggy Lee, Chris Connor, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae. I mean, you had some pretty big heavyweights at the exact same time. But Blossom stood out, really, by fusing cabaret and jazz together. She had this whimsy, but at the same time, there was a very deep passion.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THEY SAY IT'S SPRING")

DEARIE: (Singing) It may be spring, but when the robins stop singing, you're what I'm clinging to. Though they say it's spring, it's you.

BLAIR: When she was a little girl, in upstate New York, Blossom Dearie studied classical piano. But pretty quickly gravitated to jazz. She liked to have fun and was known for her wit. Over the years, she worked with two other funny jazz musicians: Bob Dorough and Dave Frishberg. She recorded one of the songs they wrote for themselves, called "I'm Hip." Bob Dorough.

BOB DOROUGH: We both thought it would last about a season, you know, after you got the joke, but Blossom made a, kind of, a little hit out of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M HIP")

DEARIE: (Singing) I'm hip. I'm alive. I enjoy any joint where there's jive. I'm on top of every trend. Look at me go, vo-do-oh-do. Bobby Darin knows my friend, I'm so hip.

BLAIR: Later on, when Bob Dorough was hired to write the music for the kids' show "Schoolhouse Rock," he asked Blossom Dearie to sing a couple of songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGURE EIGHT")

DEARIE: (Singing) If you skate upon thin ice, you'd be wise if you thought twice before you made another single move.

BLAIR: Describing Blossom Dearie's voice in The New Yorker, Whitney Balliett once wrote: It speaks of porcelain and Limoges. But this delicate artist was also very demanding. In the 1970s, she started her own record label. She had a reputation for not tolerating people talking or smoking during her shows. She would stop in the middle of a song and shush people.

Blossom Dearie was a regular act at a club in Manhattan up until just a few years ago. She told Marian McPartland, host of NPR's PIANO JAZZ, that in later years, as she sang her collection of popular standards, her fans were always respectful.

DEARIE: And they're very aware of the music. They know everything. I always say, I'm not worried about forgetting lyrics because if I forget some lyrics somebody in the audience knows the lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEARIE: They cherish these songs. My audience is very with it.

BLAIR: Blossom Dearie died on Saturday, according to her manager, of natural causes at her home in New York City. She was 82.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WON'T DANCE")

DEARIE: (Singing) I won't dance. Don't ask me. I won't dance.

BLOCK: And you can hear more from Marian McPartland's interview with Blossom Dearie at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WON'T DANCE")

DEARIE: (Singing) My heart won't let my feet do things they should do. You know what?

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