She was born as Mary Loutsenhizer in Kansas City, Missouri to Clyde and Mabel Loutsenhizer. She studied and became proficient on the clarinet, having studied for 8 years throughout junior high and high school. Mabel Loutsenhizer died in 1940 and young Mary moved in with her older sister, who took over the responsibility of raising her. She first sang publicly in 1945, at the Jefferson City Junior College’s graduation.
She performed the song “Amor” and it was well-received. After the positive response she received from the audience, she decided to pursue a singing career full-time. Initially, she stayed within the parameters of the Kansas City area, working during the day as a stenographer and singing on weekends. Her first professional job was with the University of Missouri college band playing various functions in the Columbia area. She moved between local bands from 1946-1947 and in 1948, she moved to New York City with the intention of having a glamorous career. Unable to find a singing job, she became an office stenographer. She spent the next seven weeks trying to secure any kind singing job. She met a man acquainted with orchestra leader Claude Thornhill‘s road manager, Joe Green. Thornhill was seeking a new singer to round out his vocal group, the Snowflakes. She successfully auditioned and joined Thornhill’s group, touring around the United States and recording harmonies in the studio. Of her time spent with the Snowflakes, there is only evidence of her vocal contribution on two recorded songs: “There’s a Small Hotel” and “I Don’t Know Why“, both performed in 1949. She continued to tour with the Thornhill band sporadically until March 1952, when she joined Jerry Wald‘s big band and recorded five songs: “You’re the Cream in My Coffee“, “Cherokee“, “Pennies from Heaven“, “Raisins and Almonds“, and “Terremoto“. She also reunited with Claude Thornhill in October 1952 for a radio broadcast from the Statler Hotel in New York City. She sang four songs: “Wish You Were Here“, Come Rain or Come Shine“, “Sorta Kinda“, and “Who Are We to Say“.
“Lullaby of Birdland”
Gorden Jenkins’ “Goodbye”
When Connor was singing live on a radio broadcast from the Roosevelt Hotel in February 1953, June Christy (then vocalist for Stan Kenton‘s band), was listening and heard her sing. By 1952, Kenton had rotated several female singers as replacements. In late 1952, Christy returned to the Kenton band for some sporadic engagements. When she informed Kenton again of her impending departure to pursue a solo career, she remembered Chris Connor and recommended her to Kenton. Connor auditioned and began touring and recording for the Stan Kenton band in February 1953. On February 11, 1953, Connor recorded her first sides with the Stan Kenton band. Her first song, “And The Bull Walked Around, Ole“, peaked at #30 on the Billboard music charts. Other songs recorded with the band were “Baia“, “Jeepers Creepers“, “If I Should Lose You“, “I Get A Kick Out Of You“, “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” and the song that would forever be associated with the vocalist, “All About Ronnie“. Additional songs Connor sang on the road (but never recorded with the band in studio) were “Taking A Chance On Love“, “Don’t Worry About Me“, “I’ll Remember April” and “There Will Never Be Another You“.
1953 with Stan Kenton -Johnny Mercer’s, “Jeepers Creepers”
By June 1953, Connor was finding the constant traveling and vocal demands of nightly performances with a big band exhausting. She abruptly left the Kenton band and by fall of 1953, she had relocated back to New York. Soon after, she hired Monte Kay to manage her impending solo career. He found work for her at Birdland. One night after a show, the owner of Bethlehem Records, Gus Wildi, offered her a recording contract on the spot. She signed with the label in 1953, and in 1954 released dual long play LPs, Chris Connor Sings Lullabys Of Birdland and Chris Connor Sings Lullabys For Lovers. She became a best-selling solo artist for Bethlehem Records aged 26 and the label rushed her into the studios to record additional songs. Bethlehem Records released the successful follow-up albums Chris and This Is Chris in 1955. When time came for Connor’s contract to expire, she signed for an album deal with Atlantic Records (she recorded for Atlantic from 1956-1963). Connor was the first white female jazz singer to be signed by the label. Ahmet Ertegun and his brother Nesuhi Ertegun‘s Atlantic label was, at the time, primarily a rhythm and blues label, with artists such as Ruth Brown and Ray Charles.
“From This Moment On”
Her Atlantic albums were always polished productions, and she was given free rein to choose her own songs as well as the opportunity to work with any musicians she wished. During her Atlantic period (1956-1962), Connor worked with some of the best producers, arrangers, and musicians in the jazz field. Well-known producers and musicians such as Maynard Ferguson, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Kenny Burrell, Barry Galbraith, Peanuts Hucko, Herbie Mann, Lucky Thompson, Hank Jones, Oscar Pettiford, Zoot Sims, Ray Ellis, Al Cohn, Ralph Sharon, Jerry Wexler, and Doc Severinson were all involved in her successful series of albums for the label. She recorded the songs of George Gershwin, Kurt Weill, Irving Berlin, Johnny Mercer, Margo Guryan, Cole Porter, Bart Howard, and Peggy Lee, as well as Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein compositions.
When her last Atlantic album No Strings – An After Theatre Version was released in 1962, Connor decided not to renew her contract with Atlantic Records after being advised by Kay, who started his own record label and persuaded Connor to be the first artist signed. Her first album for FM, Chris Connor at the Village Gate (1963), although critically acclaimed, did not sell as well as her previous Bethlehem and Atlantic albums. Her second LP for FM, A Weekend in Paris (1964), was sent to DJ’s but was never commercially released because FM Records declared bankruptcy in 1964.
Connor spent the remainder of the 1960s and 1970s recording for various labels: ABC/Paramount Records, Sings Gentle Bossa Nova was released in 1965 and Now! was released in 1966); an album for JVC, a Japanese label; Chris Connor Softly And Swinging was released in 1969. Further recordings were issued by Stanyan Records in 1971, Sony Japan in 1977, Progressive Records in 1978, and the Japanese Lobster Records in 1979. Connor continued to record in the early 2000s, when she recorded her last album, Everything I Love for Highnote Records in 2003. Connor most recently lived in Toms River, New Jersey. She occasionally performed in New York and surrounding areas. She owned the rights to both of the ABC/Paramount Records albums and hoped to release both on CD in the future.
Not everyone has had the opportunity to listen to Chris Connor. When ever I hear her music I am reminded of what a truly remarkable jazz singer she was. She has such a unique quality to her voice and phrasing. You can clearly hear who influenced her singing and style along the way and you can also hear who she has influenced moving forward. Her songs choices are impeccable and her style inimitable.
“All About Ronny”
Chris Connor AKA Mary Loutsenhizer
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Jazz singer, I Miss You
Girlfriend: Lori Muscarelle (her manager, until her death)
University: Jefferson City Junior College, Jefferson City, MO (1945)
Risk Factors: Alcoholism
Chris Connor (1956)
I Miss You So (1956)
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (1956)
Chris Connor Sings the George Gershwin Almanac of Song (1957)
A Portrait of Chris (1960)
Chris Connor Sings Gentle Bossa Nova (1965)
Haunted Heart (2001)
I Walk With Music (2002)
Everything I Love (2003)
Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, IMDB.com, NNDB.com
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