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Saying Goodbye to Shirley Horn

Ms. SHIRLEY HORN: (Singing) Out of the tree of life I just picked me a plum. You came along and everything started to hum.


Shirley Horn has died. She was 71 years old. As a pianist and vocalist, she returned to the world what was lost with the death Nat "King" Cole. Shirley Horn was a child prodigy in Washington, DC, and lived much of her life there. Like the great Count Basie, her style was unhurried and yet beautifully timed, a series of elegant gestures as pressing and as precise as the vibrations of the human heart. She could swing but she liked to go slow. The piano seemed to plummet songs meaning even when her fingers were at rest, reminding us that life is lived somewhere in the distance between the major and minor keys. Miles Davis was an early fan, and he collaborated with the Shirley Horn Trio on their 1991 rendition of the song "You Won't Forget Me," a grace note to a lifelong friendship. But of all the standards that Shirley Horn played and sang over more than 20 albums and countless performances, the one that clung to her like some exquisite perfume was "Here's To Life," written by Artie Butler and Phyllis Molinary. So here's to Shirley Horn.

(Soundbite of "Here's To Life")

Ms. HORN: (Singing) I had my share. I drank my fill. And even though I'm satisfied, I'm hungry still to see what's down another road beyond the hill and do it all again. So here's to life and every joy it brings. So here's to life, to dreamers and their dreams.

SIMON: Shirley Horn singing to "Here's To Life." She died Thursday near Washington, DC, of complications from diabetes. She was 71.

(Soundbite of "Here's To Life")

Ms. HORN: (Singing) Here's to you.

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.