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Jazz singer Marlena Shaw dies at 81; ‘California Soul’ and ‘Woman of the Ghetto’

Ducasse/DAPR via ZUMA Press/TNS

Renowned jazz and R&B singer Marlena Shaw died at age 81 on Friday, said a Facebook post from her daughter.

“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,” her daughter Marla Bradshaw said in a video post.

No cause of death was given, but Bradshaw said that her mother’s death “was peaceful” and added, “she went listening to some of her favorite songs.”

Shaw, best known for her hit tracks “California Soul” and “Woman of the Ghetto,” was born in New Rochelle in 1942 and performed at Harlem’s Apollo Theater when she was just 10 years old.

She rose to prominence in the 1960s after being discovered by Chess Records, and released 17 albums with eight record labels.

Among Shaw’s hits were “Feel Like Making Love,” “Loving You Was Like A Party,” “Is You or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and “Go Away Little Boy.”

During a time of high racial tensions in the U.S., Shaw’s music often focused on Black women and the resilience of the Black community.

“We are saddened by the passing of Marlena Shaw,” said Verve Records, whom she worked with in 1987.

The record label called her “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,” in a post to their Facebook page.

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