RIP: Shelby Davis, The Little Mountain Sweetheart

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Being a part of Chicago's Appalachian diaspora, this obit about Shelby Lathouwers (née Shelby Davis) intrigued me. As it points out, she came from a little town in Kentucky to become "The Little Mountain Sweetheart" on WJJD when Chicago was a hub of country & western. It mentions in passing that her first husband was Bill Russo, the great jazz arranger and Chicago Jazz Ensemble founder (his Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra is a landmark of jazz-classical fusion).

It turns out that before she was Russo's wife, she was his vocalist, making the transition from Chicago's C&W scene to its jazz scene and playing the Vanity Show Lounge with Russo and a regular group.

Some of her jazz vocal work turned up on record, but it appears to be hard to find outside of European record shops. She's on Bill Russo: Portrait of an Intellectual Jazzman, and may be on World of Alcina*, as well as A Recital of New American Music, which I can't find for sale at all (though it may overlap with Portrait).

Anyhow, I've been listening to Recital over and over today; Davis turns up on some standards ("My Man," a chilling version of "Strange Fruit"), mixed with instrumentals by Russo. Certainly worth a listen.

[Tangential: Davis comes up in an entertaining thread on Edith Frost's Web page.]

* Per Peter Margasak.

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