March 5th, 2024

Marlena Shaw, ‘California Soul’ singer, dead at 81

By The Associated Press on January 21, 2024.

Marlena Shaw, the jazz and R&B vocalist whose “California Soul” was one of the defining soul songs of the late 1960s, has died. She was 81.

Shaw’s daughter, Marla Bradshaw, announced the singer’s death Friday in a video posted on Facebook. A cause of death was not given.

“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 went very peacefully, and she went listening to some of her favorite songs.”

Shaw, a charismatic and wide-ranging vocalist, was best known for 1969’s “California Soul,” which has endured as a widely popular and often sampled song. Gang Starr, Stereo MC and Diplo (who remixed it) are just a handful of the artists who have sampled it.

“California Soul” was written by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, the Motown songwriting duo behind hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.” Ashford first released his own version of the song in 1968, but Shaw recorded her rendition on her 1969 album “The Spice of Life.”

The 5th Dimension and Marvin Gaye also recorded “California Soul,” yet Shaw’s version became the standard. It was one of two hits that came from “The Spice of Life.” The other was “Woman of the Ghetto,” which Shaw co-authored and which likewise has been widely sampled.

Born Marlina Burgess in New Rochelle, New York, on Sept. 22, 1942, Shaw performed in jazz clubs before signing with Chess Records in the late “˜60s. She released her first two albums on Chess’ Cadet label before leaving for Blue Note in 1972.

Shaw, who had five children, toured for more than 50 years and put out 17 albums across eight different labels.

In a statement, Verve records remembered Shaw.

“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.”

Share this story:
Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments