Barbara Morrison, a vocalist and adjunct associate professor at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, died March 16 from cardiovascular disease. She was 72.
Morrison, who grew up in Michigan, started singing from a young age. When she was 10, she performed on a radio station in Detroit. In the 1970s, Morrison moved to Los Angeles, where she found work singing with artists such as Ray Charles, Johnny Otis, Jimmy Smith and the Count Basie Orchestra.
Morrison began teaching voice lessons at UCLA In the mid-’90s, when she was one of the first hires by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, director of the then-new jazz studies concentration. She continued teaching at UCLA, even performing at the school’s Lani Hall Theater opening ceremony in December 2019.
“Because of her vocal virtuosity and international name in the field, she has been one of our greatest examples to our students, who loved her teaching style and her personality,” said Steve Loza, chair of global jazz studies at UCLA. In 2020, UCLA established the Barbara Morrison Scholarship for Jazz, supporting students in global jazz studies at the school of music.
When she wasn’t teaching, the singer was busy releasing her recordings as well as other artists’ albums under her Blue Lady Records label and arranging events, including a jazz festival that involved multiple stages and performers.
She sought to give back to the community. In 2009, Morrison opened the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in the Leimert Park neighborhood in Los Angeles, where she and local artists performed. She also opened the California Jazz & Blues Museum, which featured concert posters, instruments and paintings by local artists.
Her enthusiasm for music never waned. “She could do three gigs in a day from Palm Springs to L.A.,” said vocalist Cathy Segal-Garcia. “Even in recent years, she would just do it. She was traveling internationally still and running all of her Leimert Park events. It was incredible.”
Morrison didn’t let health setbacks slow her down. Despite having both of her legs amputated due to diabetes, she continued to perform in person and through livestreams.
Vocalist Dwight Trible, who saw Morrison perform shortly before she went to the hospital, said she sounded just as good as ever.
“She was tried, true and tested. She didn’t discriminate,” he said. “She’d play at a hole in the wall or Disney Hall. She didn’t have a thought that she was too good for a place. I think that’s why she was somebody who was undeniable. We have truly lost a giant.”
Watch Morrison performing at UCLA on Dec. 3, 2020: