Subtle, relaxed and swinging — there's something about Mary Stallings

Subtle, relaxed and swinging — there’s something about Mary Stallings

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Mary Stallings has been wowing jazz fans for over six decades.

If you’re familiar with her craft, your musical life is certainly better for it. However, if you haven’t heard her, don’t beat yourself up. Stallings’ singing career was never a straight line upwards to the jazz hall of fame.

As a young adult growing up in San Francisco, everything was lined up for her to become a well-known vocalist. She had a knack for elevating the Great American Songbook and making it her own, with her warm tone, vocal virtuosity and her natural ability to deliver a lyric with great depth and power.

From the early 1960s to the early 1970s you could see her performing next to Count Basie and Billy Eckstine, clearly commanding the stage as a teenager. She seemed well on her way to become the next vocal jazz superstar of her era.

But sometimes, life doesn’t work out that way. Just when she was about to enter the next golden era of touring and performing, her musical career suddenly stopped. She devoted her time to raising her daughter and her fashion design business. But her heart was always with music.

Her musical career was rejuvenated in the mid 1980s, thanks to one conspicuous trumpet player. After her return, Stallings went on a recording spree, and has released a dozen albums to date.

“If you have music in you, it’s going to be heard, ” she says. “You’ll have a career if you just stick to it.”

In this episode, we celebrate Mary Stallings’ remarkable life in music, with all its twists and turns — from her youth singing in San Francisco to today, when she is well into her 80s, still singing and swinging on stage. We also get to hear the singer with the Emmet Cohen Trio, recorded live at Dizzy’s Club in New York City.


Mary Stallings, vocals; Emmet Cohen, piano; Russell Hall, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.

Set List:

  • “I Love Being Here With You” (Peggy Lee and Bill Schluger)
  • “Blue Skies” (Irving Berlin)
  • “The Lamp Is Low” (Peter DeRose, Bert Shefter, Mitchell Parish, Maurice Ravel)
  • “I Want to Talk About You” (Billy Eckstine)
  • “Soul Mates” (Horace Silver)
  • “Lullaby Of The Leaves” (Bernice Petkere, Joe Young)
  • “Broadway” (Billy Bird, Teddy McRae, Henri Woode)


Writer and Producer: Sarah Geledi; Host: Christian McBride; Producer: Alex Ariff; Consulting Editor: Simon Rentner; Concert engineer: Todd Whitelock; Episode Mix: Ron Scalzo; Executive Producer at NPR Music: Suraya Mohamed; Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins.

Copyright 2024 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

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