Barbara Morrison, jazz and blues legend who left a lasting imprint on L.A., dies

 A woman with arm raised under stage lights
Jazz singer Barbara Morrison sings in 2011 at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Barbara Morrison, one of Los Angeles’ top jazz vocalists, called singing good therapy.

In 1983, when her mother, father and grandmother all died, she never missed a day of work, she said.

“If I hadn’t had singing, I would have lost my mind,” she told The Times in a 1996 interview. “It’s just a lifesaver. I found something I like, that I never get tired of.”

A jazz and blues legend who left a lasting imprint in L.A., Morrison died Wednesday at 72.


A GoFundMe launched for Morrison in early March, after “she was sent to the hospital with cardiovascular disease,” raised more than $13,000. People who donated described her as “a national treasure” and “a legend.”

Morrison grew up in the Detroit suburbs. Her father was a doo-wop singer, and she sang too through her young years.

After she moved to Los Angeles in 1971 at age 21, steady work with blues great Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and performances on “The Johnny Otis Show” grounded Morrison in blues and jazz.

“Eddie used to tell me, ‘Get your own sound, girl!’ ” she told The Times in 2011. “Johnny said, ‘Why are you singin’ like Barbra Streisand? You need to learn your own people’s music!’ ”

Musicians will hold a benefit to help the jazz singer with medical bills.

Sept. 10, 2011

Morrison appeared on dozens of albums — her own and as a guest vocalist. Her albums included “I Know How to Do It” (1996) and “Visit Me” (1999). She was the singer on trumpeter Doc Severinsen’s “Swingin’ the Blues.”

“I think I’m a hot blues diva, but I always mix in jazz with the blues,” Morrison said in a 2000 interview with The Times.

A smiling woman
Singer Barbara Morrison in 2000 at LA Ve Lee jazz club.
(Beatrice De Gea / Los Angeles Times)

Morrison performed at the Montreux, Monterey, Long Beach and North Sea jazz festivals, as well as Carnegie Hall and countless Southern California jazz venues. She also toured Europe with Ray Charles.

For more than a decade, Morrison performed at Pip’s on La Brea Avenue, a jazz club in Mid-City. On Wednesday, club owner Derrick Pipkin posted a photo of a smiling Morrison and offered his condolences, adding that she had “captivated the hearts of us all.”

“Her soulful voice was only surpassed by her beautiful spirit and radiance. She was the essence of a Sunday Kind of Love,” the post read, referring to the classic Etta James song. “She dedicated her life to being an inspiration not only through her music but through her words of motivation and encouragement.

“Her smile lit up a room and her presence brought a sense of warmth. A mentor, a friend, a legacy. She will be truly missed.”

Morrison also was a staple in Leimert Park Village, where she opened the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center as a launching pad for new artists. Later came the California Jazz & Blues Museum, which she opened to educate the community on the region’s prolific jazz performers and to share historical information about California’s influence on the genre.

 A woman backlit by stage lights
Barbara Morrison in 2011 at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, which she established in Leimert Park as a launching pad for new artists.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

She also passed on that musical education as an adjunct associate professor of global jazz studies at UCLA. In 2020, UCLA launched the Barbara Morrison Scholarship for Jazz.

Nothing seemed to slow her down, not even losing a leg to diabetes in 2011. It needed to be done to save her life, Morrison told The Times, but “thankfully it doesn’t affect my singing at all.”

Last year, after the verdict was read in the case of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, it was Morrison who spread the news to those eating outside or visiting stores in Leimert Park Village.

“Guilty on all charges,” she shouted, as she rolled down the sidewalk in her electric wheelchair. She pumped her right fist in the air.