Sallie Blair (vcl), accompanied by The Bethlehem Orchestra & Strings, Bernie Glow, Frank LoPinto, Al Derisi (tp), Urbie Green, Frank Rehak (tb), Frank Socolow, Romeo Penque (saxes), Sanford Gold (p), Sal Salvador (g), Milt Hinton (b), Sol Gubin (d), Mongo Santamaria (conga), Richard Wess, Neal Hefti, Bill Sanford, Billy Page, Sonny Lester, Luther Dixon, Russell Garcia (dir)
Reference: FSRCD 875
Bar code: 8427328608756
Born in Baltimore as Sara Bolling Hutchins (1935-1992), Sallie Blair drifted into music as a child. She took her stage name while at Douglass High School, then spelling it Sally with a Y, and gained experience singing with local bands that encouraged her to change her brunette hair to blonde. So in 1952 she made her first mark as the blonde, band singer with the Johnny Otis Band of Hand Jive fame.
Subsequently, she sang with the Illinois Jacquet and Duke Ellington bands. In July 1953, tired of one-nighters, she left the band business in Los Angeles to work as a single. Early in 1956, she began a solo career as Sallie Blair. In 1957, Cab Calloway signed her for his Cotton Club Revue. The show was a hit, and from then on, it was one triumph after another for the blonde bombshell.
This 2-CD set compiles her two 12-inch albums and all her singles. Her sexy and intimate approach made her recordings ideal for radio programming and as a night-club singer. Walter Winchells column earned her spots on the Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson TV shows and she became an international star with appearances in South America, Europe, and the Middle East.
Although her stage persona became more sophisticated in style of delivery, voice and dress with the years, one thing is for sure: Sallie Blair delivered more sex and surging, sultry emotion in a song than many singers in their whole careers.
Dramatic, capricious and with enough vocal talent to match her ostensibly sometimes overwhelming stage presence, Baltimore-born Sallie Blair shone brightly in the late 50s/early 60s, when all of her material was recorded. This set presents her entire recording career, a total of two LPs and 10 singles, all wrapped up by 1962 after which she got married and gradually dropped out of the public eye.
The tracks here are mostly standards but this belies the diversity of the album: Blair was a mercurial performer, switching chameleon-like from harsh blues shouter to sultry torch singer sometimes in the space of one song, reminiscent at once of Ethel Merman, Eartha Kitt, Al Jolson, Sarah Vaughan. “I am a thousand different people,” Blair proclaimed to Jet magazine in 1963, and it’s clear from her scattered (though highly entertaining) approach to singing that she struggled to settle on one persona, like a child making their way through the dressing-up box.
When Blair was on form, however, she was mesmerising, and highly accomplished. Her rich, melodic voice holds nothing back, with a pleasingly husky, flowery vibrato and a knack for altering the phrasing of a familiar song to make it sound new. The tracks where Blair can exploit the dramatic sense of a song are the most successful, with the expressive, languid Whatever Lola Wants and Squeeze Me being prime examples.
Sally Evans-Darby, Jazz Journal (December 2015)
"Want some extra spice in your jazz vocals? Dont think theres anything new out there to excite you? Wait until you hear this overlooked big, beautiful , bodacious and black vamp named Sallie Blair. She had a stint with R&B er Johnny Otis, put out a couple albums that went from jazz to pop and then dropped out of sight.
Just wait until you hear the stuff on these two discs! First, just get a load of the two titles of her albums to get a hint of what youre in for: Squeeze Me from 1957 and Hello, Tiger from 1958. Some friendly advice-keep these away from your wife. YEOW!!
Backed up by a steamy band including Urbie Green/tb, Sal Salvador/g, Milt Hinton/b and Mongo Santamaria/perc, she growls like a hungry animal on Squeeze Me and sizzles like hot and sour soup on What is This Thing Called Love. Shell send shivers down your spine on How Long Has This Been Going On while she puts a hex on you during Witchcraft. Id have her replace Gwen Verdon any day if her visuals on Whatever Lola Wants matches her vocals. Loosen up the collar!
Neal Heft conducts the orchestra for the Hello, Tiger sessions, and the opening to Daddy is an absolute hoot! Blair creates a gust of cool air on She Serves A Nice Cup of Tea while makes everyone forget whats-her-name from White Christmas on Im Through With Love. A handful of singles give a hint to what became of her, as her style slowly got taken over by the Philistines of pop music. But still, you arent going to go wrong with this lady. The excellent notes inside give you enough information to make you an expert on this lady. A lotta woman is on these albums!"
George W. Harris (January 4, 2016)
"With its saucy title and come-hither cover photo, Squeeze Me promises an abundance of sex-kitten thrills, but what separates Sallie Blair from dozens of other postwar bombshells is her bluesy, earthy voice -- sultriness notwithstanding, the girl can sing. This Bethlehem debut pairs Blair with arranger Richard Wess and a small-combo support unit headlined by bassist Milt Hinton, guitarist Sal Salvador, and pianist Sanford Gold. The record's candlelit ambience emphasizes Blair's prowess on romantic ballads, but a few uptempo, Latin-inspired cuts underscore the breadth of her vocal range."
Jason Ankeny -All Music Guide