Friday, June 28, 2024

Jewel Brown, Blues and Jazz Legend, Succumbs to Cancer at 86

Jewel Brown, the celebrated jazz singer from Houston who gained fame performing with Louis Armstrong,has died at age 86, her publicist confirmed Wednesday.

Born and raised in Houston's Third Ward, Brown was one of six children. She knew she wanted to sing from an early age, participating in local talent shows and earning her way to a regular gig in Galveston while still a teenager. Her talent soon led to recording singles for Liberty Records in the early 1960s, and she was drawn to Los Angeles to sing with keyboardist Earl Grant's band.

In 1961, while Louis Armstrong was touring in Sierra Leone with his All Stars, his longtime singer Velma Middleton died suddenly. Armstrong offered Brown the opportunity to take Middleton's place. This led to a nearly decade-long collaboration, with the two touring, recording, and performing together until Armstrong's retirement in 1969.

"He was the most fantastic person I've worked with my entire life," Brown said of Armstrong in a 2015 interview with the Houston Chronicle. "It was just a gift from heaven to be able to work with him."

Brown's career began at the tender age of 12, when she performed professionally for the first time at the Manhattan Club in Galveston, Texas. She later turned down an opportunity to tour Europe with Lionel Hampton's band to stay in school. Before joining Armstrong, she headlined at Jack Ruby's nightclub in Dallas, a period she rarely discussed in interviews.

Despite her success, Brown eventually chose to return to Houston in 1969 to care for her parents.
"Baby, I grew up on it all," she told the Houston Chronicle. "I've done country and western, ballads, torch songs, blues, and jazz. They call mea bluesy jazz singer and a jazzy blues singer. Give a song to me. If it's good, I'll do it."

After parting ways with Armstrong, Brown continued to sing but focused on performing locally. Health issues, including scoliosis, osteoporosis, and partial sight loss in one eye, limited her later career, but she remained active in the Houston music scene. In 2007, she was inducted into the Blues Smithsonian Hall of Fame, and in 2015, she was recognized by Congress for her contributions to the arts.

During her hiatus from performing, Brown managed a barbershop with her brother, sold insurance, and worked as a tailor. She eventually returned to performing locally and made a significant comeback, performing at events like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Satchmo Fest.
In recent years, Brown recorded for Dynaflow Records in Austin. She had recently been treated for colon cancer before her death.

Brown’s family expressed their gratitude in a statement sent to ABC13: "It is a special but difficult time for us. We appreciate all the love, the calls, concerns, and acknowledgements that all of you have expressed. We know how much Jewel was loved by many across the globe, in Texas, in Houston, and especially her Third Ward community. We thank you all!"

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