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ED GORDON, host:

The unmistakable voice that once described as a melodic whisper has drifted into silence. Grammy Award-winning jazz vocalist and pianist Shirley Horn passed away on Thursday.

Ms. SHIRLEY HORN (Jazz Vocalist and Pianist): I want to tell the story. I want you to see what I see. I want you to feel what I feel.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. HORN: (Singing) Love is lovelier the second time around, just as wonderful with both feet on the ground.

GORDON: Horn was widely regarded as one of the greatest song stylists in jazz. She famously probed the depths of lyrics while putting emphasis on the space and time between phrases. One good example is her interpretation of The Beatles classic "Yesterday."

(Soundbite of "Yesterday")

Ms. HORN: (Singing) Why did he have to go? I don't know. He didn't say. I said something wrong. Now I long for yesterday. Yesterday...

The lyric is so important to me.

GORDON: In a 2002 interview with radio station WBUR in Boston, Horn offered up this simple advice to aspiring young singers.

Ms. HORN: Say the words so that people can understand what you're saying. I find that a little hard these days when I do turn the radio on. What are you saying? Tell me a story. You know, let me groove with you. Paint a picture.

(Soundbite of "Yesterday")

Ms. HORN: (Singing) I'm not half the girl I used to be. There's a shadow hanging over me.

GORDON: Shirley Horn could paint a picture better than most. It was an ability that astounded many of her peers in the music business.

Mr. KEN DRUCKER (Verve Records): The ability to command the attention of a room no matter what size.

GORDON: Ken Drucker, a vice president at Verve Records, recently worked with Shirley Horn to compile her "Best Of" CD.

Mr. DRUCKER: The same attention that she could command in a club with 30 or 40 people, I watched a room the size of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center be transfixed by her in exactly the same way. And I think it was that fact that you really had to listen.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. HORN: (Singing) There's no place on Earth that I'd rather be. Just show me some bright lights. The big city's for me.

GORDON: Horn was born and raised in Washington, DC. She discovered music at the age of four, and it quickly became her obsession. She attended Howard University's School for Gifted Children. Her flight to fame began in 1961 when Miles Davis heard her and brought her to New York. There she opened for him at the Village Vanguard.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. HORN: (Singing) Come on to the city.

GORDON: More recently, Horn had been battling diabetes. And while she could no longer play the piano, she continued singing from a wheel chair.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. HORN: (Singing) So here's to life...

Music is my life. Music is me.

(Singing) ...and every joy it brings.

GORDON: Right up until the end, Shirley Horn's voice rang through with that supreme expressiveness.

Ms. HORN: (Singing) So here's to life...

GORDON: Jazz great Shirley Horn passed away. She was 71.

This is NPR News.

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