Annie Ross, the British singer who became globally famous with jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and had a varied acting career, has died aged 89 at her home in New York City.
Her death was due to emphysema and heart disease, confirmed her manager, Jim Coleman.
Ross was born Annabel Short in 1930 to Scottish vaudeville artists John and Mary Short, with the family emigrating to New York when Ross was four. She went to live with her musical-theatre star aunt, Ella Logan, and quickly earned childhood acting roles, including an appearance alongside Judy Garland in 1943’s Presenting Lily Mars. “They used to call me the Scottish Shirley Temple,” she later recalled.
After a spell back in Europe, she settled in New York where she began recording songs both solo and as a trio with Dave Lambert and Jon Hendricks. She was a proponent of vocalese, a singing style where the vocal line is matched to the melody of a jazz improvisation. A key example is their 1959 album Sing Along With Basie, a collaboration with Count Basie’s jazz orchestra, later awarded a hall of fame Grammy award in 1998. The trio recorded seven albums, including 1962’s The Real Ambassadors in collaboration with Louis Armstrong and Dave Brubeck.
Ross’s solo vocalese song Twisted was a hit in 1952, and was covered by Joni Mitchell for her album Court and Spark, as well as by Bette Midler. She also collaborated with trumpeter-vocalist Chet Baker and others.
She left the trio and New York to beat a heroin addiction, saying: “I kind of knew that if I came back to America I might die.” She opened a nightclub in London, where Nina Simone was among the performers, and returned to acting after declaring bankruptcy. As well as roles in Superman III, Throw Momma from the Train and the Alfie sequel Alfie Darling, she also provided the speaking voice for Britt Ekland in The Wicker Man. She also continued singing in theatres and nightclubs.
Robert Altman cast her in his acclaimed 1993 film Short Cuts, saying: “I heard her sing at my house a lot after dinner, and I became infatuated with her passion for her music. She hears a whole band inside her head.” He also cast her in The Player the previous year.
In 1949, as her career was taking off, she had an affair with jazz drummer Kenny Clarke, and gave birth to a son who was cared for by Clarke’s family. She also had a brief relationship with comedian Lenny Bruce – she said Bruce “would write ‘I love you’ on an airplane sick bag and mail it to me”. She married actor Sean Lynch in 1963, with the pair divorcing in 1975.