«California Soul» singer Marlena Shaw dies aged 81

"California Soul" singer Marlena Shaw dies aged 81

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

Shaw’s daughter, Marla Bradshaw, announced the singer’s death on Friday in a video posted on Facebook. 

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“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 favourite songs.»

«California Soul» — A timeless anthem

Shaw, a charismatic and wide-ranging vocalist, was best known for 1969’s “California Soul,” a song that has become synonymous with the soul genre.

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,» the track gained widespread popularity and has been sampled by artists such as Gang Starr, Stereo MC, and Diplo.

«California Soul» was initially released by Ashford in 1968, but it was Shaw’s rendition on her 1969 album, «The Spice of Life,» that cemented its status as a soul classic. 

And despite other versions by The 5th Dimension and Marvin Gaye, Shaw’s interpretation became the definitive standard.

A prolific career and lasting impact

Born Marlina Burgess in New Rochelle, New York, on 22 September 1942, Shaw began her career performing in jazz clubs before signing with Chess Records in the late ’60s.

She released her first two albums on Chess’ Cadet label before transitioning to Blue Note in 1972. She would go on to tour for over 50 years and release 17 albums across eight different labels. 

One of her other notable hits, «Woman of the Ghetto,» co-authored by Shaw, has also been widely sampled.

Video editor • Theo Farrant


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