November 12, 1928 - April 1, 2018
Audrey Morris grew up on the South Side of Chicago and trained as a pianist at the city’s American Conservatory of Music. Morris came of age in an era when jazz performance and classic songwriting were everywhere in popular culture. Through the radio broadcasts of Your Hit Parade, she developed an interest in songs. In her school days she wrote lyrics; her idols included Billie Holiday, Lee Wiley, Mildred Bailey, and Peggy Lee.
“When I got into this business (in the 1940s), there were performers like me in any direction you turned your head,” Morris told the Tribune in 1991. “I started out in an era when there were two or three great new tunes coming out every week, when Randolph Street, Rush Street and other great boulevards overflowed with superb music. What a time.”
In 1950, she began performing in the Capitol Lounge. In 1954 Morris moved to the nightclub Mister Kelly's. In 1955, she sang with Charlie Spivak; 1956 with Claude Thornhill in the NBC television show Moonlight in Vermont. She recorded her first album in 1955 for the small RCA sub-label Label X (Bistro Ballads, with Johnny Pate); the following year for Bethlehem Records (The Voice of Audrey Morris with arrangements by Marty Paich)
Not surprisingly, Hollywood called, with Warner Bros. offering a recording contract and the opportunity to work on soundtracks for major motion pictures. “I actually had gotten so far as to record the opening number for Mervyn LeRoy’s film ‘Home Before Dark’ with a huge Warner Bros. orchestra,” Morris said in the Tribune interview. “But Warner Bros. threw out the recording when I refused to sign their contract. “I suppose I didn’t sign it out of stubbornness or stupidity, but I was determined to play the music that I wanted to play, and the contract allowed them to direct everything I did. If I would have wanted to play a gig somewhere, they would have to give approval. They would decide what I’d record. “I just didn’t want them to turn me into something I was not. So I said ‘Goodbye, Hollywood’ and never regretted it.”
In the following years, she continued to perform locally; she was the leader of a trio at London House, a jazz piano club that also had stars such as George Shearing and Oscar Peterson. In the late 1960s, she limited her performances to her family. In 1981, she had another engagement at Palmer House. In 1985, she released another album, Afterthoughts (with Stu Genovese). She gave her final public performance in April 2017, in an Orchestra Hall tribute to her dear friend, Oscar Peterson, inspired by the recording “Oscar, With Love.” The three-CD homage featured pianists Ramsey Lewis, Michel Legrand, Chick Corea and one singer-pianist: Morris. In the field of jazz, she was involved in 12 recording sessions between 1955 and 2001.
Morris is survived by her brothers John and Bill Morris, and a son, Stuart Genovese.