Known as the Jezebel of Jazz, Anita O' Day was a jazz vocalist from the mid 1930's till the 1960's that took Bee bop to a new height. She wasn't without her problems, though. Nearly abandoned by parents who saw her as excess baggage, she fled her home to become a marathon dancer at the age of twelve and began singing for tips. She changed her name from Colton to O' Day which came from the Pig Latin for dough, of course the slang meaning for money.
As a child she had a botched surgery on her tonsils which resulted in the removal of her Uvula, that left her incapable of vibrato, unable to hold long phrases. Anita had to develop a more percussive style based on shorter notes and rhythmic drive. She was admired for sense of rhythm and Improvisation. She often worked into the act, “Four” by Miles Davis, taking one of the parts of the saxophone, vocalizing what sound the instrument would make.
Her first real gig was at the Off-beat club, backed by Max Miller quartet. She became Vocalist for Gene Krupa, cutting thirty-four sides. Anita had a novelty hit duet with Roy Elderidge in 1941, “Let me off uptown”.
She had another hit with Krupa, “Thanks for the boogie ride”. After Krupa was busted for a possession of pot in 1943, the band broke up. Anita found herself with Woody Herman band. She did a month long gig at the Palladium, but was unwilling to tour with another big band. She finished the year out as solo. Soon, Anita joined Stan Kenton in 1944. With Kenton she recorded twenty-one sides and appeared in Universal short film Artistry in Rhythms. Anita had a huge hit with “And her tears flowed like wine”, which put Kenton on the map. She rejoined Krupa in 1945, but left again in 1946.
What secured Anita in Jazz history are her seventeen albums she recorded for Verve and Norgran labels between 1952 and 1962. Anita O' Day sings Jazz was a critical success and boosted her popularity.
This was also the year that her life changed in a strange way. Her troubles were always there, two bad marriages, a backstage rape and a couple of pot busts. But it's this event that led to a harder drug.
After a two night stint at the Call of the Wild club in San Francisco she went back to her hotel, Sunrise. She had sent word she wanted her bags and trunk ready for her leave, back on the road for another show in New York. She received a call from her Drummer John Poole to meet her for dinner as a group of Jazz writers were tagging along. Anita decided to retrieve a dress from her trunk. It was then she recognized the trunk as not hers. The trunk was a faded green, not her usual green and tan. Anita was curious as always, opened the trunk.
Inside, she found a woman holding child. They had been mummified, preserved almost exact, only their eyes were hollow, and the child most certainly still nursing. The look on the Mother's face was one of horror and sadness.
Anita dropped the trunk from her hands and screamed. The trunk fell on it's back, the top still open. Anita tried to look away, but could not take her eyes from them. She was drawn to the Mother and child. The child pulled it's lips from the Mother's dried up nipple, and cried out for Anita. She screamed once again., picked herself up from the floor and ran out of her room.
She caught a cab and directed the driver to the Blue belle cafe. In the back of the place she found the writers all sitting around smoking cigars and drinking hooch.
“You missed dinner, Anita,” One of them said.
Anita spoke from across the room with urgency. “Where's John?”
Another writer laughed, pointed to the bathroom. “Bastard's been in there for awhile.”
Anita ran, her heels clicking on the tile floors. She burst in the Men's room with such a force, John thought it was the cops making a bust.
He was in the corner stall, trying to get a vein up for a taste of Heroin.
“Jesus Anita, what are you doing? I almost broke a needle off in my arm,” John said, giving up on finding a good vein.
“I want some,” Anita tried to control her breathing.
He began to argue with her, but decided it was time for Anita to experience what he had been feeling. He untied the rope from his right arm and tied it around her left. A pretty vein popped up in no time. He readied the needle and slowly approached Anita who was now sitting on the toilet.
“Are you ready, Canary?” He whispered, his shadow overpowering her best features. She nodded, sighed.
“I was born ready,” She said. “I've got a lot to forget.”
A couple of months later, Anita O' Day was arrested for possession of Heroin. Fourteen years later, she almost overdosed in a bathroom in an office building in Los Angles, in 1966. She quit for good after that, and lived to the old age eighty-seven.