Marlena Shaw, ‘California Soul’ Singer, Dies at 81

Marlena Shaw, the soul and jazz vocalist known for her hits “California Soul” and “Woman of the Ghetto,” has died. She was 81.

Shaw’s daughter, Marla Bradshaw, shared the news Friday in a video posted on Facebook. A cause of death was not revealed.

“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 at 12:03,” Bradshaw said in the video. “She was peaceful. We were at peace.”

“She went listening to some of her favorite songs,” Bradshaw added.

Shaw rose to prominence after signing with Chess Records in 1966. She released two albums with the music label’s subsidiary Cadet Records: 1967’s “Out of Different Bags” and 1969’s “The Spice of Life,” which featured the popular tracks “California Soul” and “Woman of the Ghetto.” “California Soul,” which was written by Ashford & Simpson, was heavily sampled by other artists and appeared in multiple TV commercials.

Shaw moved to Blue Note Records in 1972 and released her third studio album “Marlena” the same year. The singer’s other albums released on the Blue Note label include “From the Depths of My Soul” (1973), “Marlena Shaw Live at Montreux” (1974), “Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?” (1975) and “Just a Matter of Time” (1976).

In 1977, Shaw released the LP “Sweet Beginnings” on Columbia Records, which contained the tracks “Yu Ma / Go Away Little Boy” and “Look at Me, Look at You.”

Shaw was born Marlina Burgess on Sept. 22, 1942, in New Rochelle, New York. She began her music career in the 1960s by singing in jazz clubs, and continued to perform live into the 2000. She released 17 albums in total with eight different record labels.

Verve Records, who worked with Shaw in 1987, shared a statement on Facebook, writing, “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.”


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