Shirley Nanette vocalist extraordinaire!
Shirley Nanette has appeared as guest soloist in concert throughout the United States and Canada, on both commercial and public television. She has performed at many of Oregon’s musical events including: the Mt. Hood Festival of Jazz, Cascade Music Festival, Sunriver Music Festival, and each year at Oregon Art Museum’s “Museum After Hours” Gospel Meets Jazz concert.
A stellar performer with demonstrated skill across genres, whether pop, torch, R&B, jazz, or gospel, Ms Nanette displays a nomenclature and music style that is head and shoulders above the norm. “I came up in the church and grew up in a home where music was always heard,” she says. She can even recall her mother telling stories about how she literally sang herself to sleep at night. “I did,” she says. “Since I was seven years old, singing has been my thing.” Her family linage might also have something to do with it. “My grandfather’s cousin on my mother’s side was Bessie Smith,” she explains. Evolving from such ripe DNA isn’t the only reason for her talent. But a connection like that certainly lifts one’s self-esteem and confidence. Before settling on jazz, though, Ms. Nanette considered other vocal styles; after all, she had the chops and wind for anything. “I wanted to be an opera singer,” she says. “And while in my twenties, I was introduced to an opera coach.”
Ms. Nanette’s vocal powers grew as did her stature in the industry, fueled by a restless determination to be her best, to venture and challenge herself. And she found those challenges in a variety of styles and venues, from late-night spots in Portland like the Upstairs Lounge in the 1960s,
Shirley was honored by the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade with her own float, two consecutive years, from which she sang through the entire length of the parade.
She has been the opening act for Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons, Billy Eckstine, Diane Schuur, Lou Rawls and Eddie Harris and substituted for Tony Bennett with the Spokane Symphony when he became ill. Shirley performed with the Woody Hite Big Band and the George Reinmiller Big Band, usually in outdoor summer concerts.
Her love for children is supported by the numerous awards and invitations to community functions and events she’s been invited to in order to share her gift and mentor young aspiring artists. She recently garnered an award from Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church for her volunteer work and mentor ship. “Singing in a church choir is a wonderful opportunity offered to young people as a way to learn the craft,” she says. She also taught classes in arts and communications,voice and performance skills at the Arts Magnet Academy. Her community work reaches back to the 1970s, when she was a supervisor for the first wave of children involved in the federally mandated bus program when schools became racially integrated. “I’ve lived through some very interesting times,” she says, as she recalls society becoming more tolerant and race relations improving.
Shirley Made her debut with the Oregon Symphony in 1981, conducted by Norman Leyden. She appears as one of the “Pops” concert favorites. She has also appeared as guest soloist with the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Seattle, Spokane, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Tucson, San Diego, Honolulu, Long Beach, and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.
In 1983, competing against several thousand contestants throughout the United States, she won the First “Star Search” aka “Fantasy” national talent competition on NBC Television. Shirley was recognized as “Best Female Vocalist in Portland” from 1981 to 1991. She appeared in the stage play “The Colored Museum” written by George C. Wolfe, in a parody of Josephine Baker. In 2000, she appeared in Truman Capote’s “The Grass Harp” performed at the Lakewood Theatre in Lake Oswego, for which she received an Artistic Merit award from the theater company.
Shirley was chosen twice as the only jazz vocalist to be represented by the Oregon Arts Commission. In May of the following year, she began the task of making her first recording entitled “See You Later”. It was released in 1992. The album includes compositions of Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Michel LeGrand and George and Ira Gershwin. The lyrics from the title tune to her studio recording, “Starting Here, Starting Now,” she believes, sum up her spirit and humanity. “I’ve lived through some very interesting times,” “When we walk, we walk together, year by year. When we talk, we say the most with silence, when we are near, starting here.”
Shirley has been inducted in the Oregon Music Hall of Fame for her dedication to jazz and her long career.
Her work includes a CD and DVD set called "Starting Here, Starting Now". It was recorded at Jimmy Maks jazz club in early 2008 and is a landmark opportunity to see and hear Shirley and the musicians in her band.
Shirley has performed with the Portland’s NW Childrens Theatre 2009 singing and acting.
She also produced a Christmas recording called “The First Noel” in 2013.
In 2019, at 71, Shirley returned to the stage to perform her 1973 album, Never Coming Back, in its entirety. It was presented by Albina Music Trust at the Halocene.
So, when will Ms. Nanette stop? Does the music ever end? “I’m going as long as my ability allows. I will know when to stop. Not there yet.” She can still hit those high and low notes. “I’ve learned how to maneuver,” she says with a smile.
Shirley’s incredible energy emerges when she is on stage doing what she does from the heart, performing for the audiences that love her and have watched her grow into the beautiful, talented, and gracious lady she is today.
-- written by Shawn Kirkeby with excerpts from an article in 2013 Jazzscene by Yugen Rashad.