Photo: Cadet Records - Public Domain - Cropped

Soul Singer Marlena Shaw: Dead At 81

Perhaps best known for her ubiquitous 1969 hit “California Soul,” Marlena Shaw has died at the age of 81.

Taking to social media on Friday (1.19,) Shaw’s daughter Marla Bradshaw confirmed her mother’s passing, writing:

“It’s with a very heavy heart for myself and my family I announce that our beloved mother, your beloved icon and artist Marlena Shaw has passed away today.” “She was peaceful. We were at peace… She went listening to some of her favorite songs.”

In a professional statement, Shaw’s onetime record label Verve Records added “We are saddened by the passing of Marlena Shaw, a wonderful singer whose ‘California Soul’ is as popular today as it ever was and whose album It Is Love: Recorded Live At Vine St. helped relaunch the Verve label in 1987.”

Born in New Rochelle, New York, Shaw first made her presence known at jazz clubs in the mid-1960s prior to signing with the Chess Records offshoot Cadet Records, that released her first two full lengths, Out of Different Bags (1967) and The Spice of Life. (1969.) It was the the latter album that featured Shaw’s rendition of the Ashford-Simpson composition “California Soul,” that has since been sampled countless times throughout the years. While Marlena wasn’t the only artist to record the track, it was her rendition that remains the most popular, appearing in television commercials, films and other artists’ work.

Though never a chart-topping singer, Shaw remained active throughout the 1970s and 1980s, recording LPs for Blue Note, Polydor, Columbia and Verve, and it was her recording of “Don’t Ask to Stay Until Tomorrow,” which was the theme song for the 1978 film Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

Throughout the years, Marlena Shaw’s catalog has been featured by turntablists and hip-hop producers, with her music sampled on repertoire by the likes of Gang Starr, the Avalanches, Drake, Schoolboy Q, Ultramagnetic MCs, DJ Shadow, The Game, Jay Electronica and Ghostface Killah.

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Author: Saul Goode

Photo: Cadet Records – Public Domain – Cropped