Jazz singer Chris Connor dies

Smoky-voiced vocalist was 81 years old

TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- Chris Connor, a smoky-voiced jazz vocalist who had numerous hits during a career that spanned more than 50 years, has died. She was 81.

Connor, who performed with several big bands and also had an extensive solo career, died of cancer Aug. 29 at Community Medical Center in Toms River, said Lori Muscarelle, her longtime companion and manager.

Connor was known for altering rhythms on ballads, using little vibrato -- except on special occasions -- and a husky, lush sound heard on hits such as "All About Ronnie," which she performed with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, as well as "Trust in Me" and "About the Blues."

Born Mary Loutsenhizer in Kansas City, Mo., on Nov. 8, 1927, Connor studied the clarinet as a child before she began singing in her late teens, later commuting to the University of Missouri on weekends to perform with a college band. She moved to New York in 1949 and joined the Claude Thornhill Orchestra as a member of its singing group.

Besides performing with Kenton and Thornhill, Connor also sang with bandleader Herbie Fields and Jerry Wald's big band. She reached her greatest acclaim in the mid-1950s, recording several solo albums for both Bethlehem Records and Atlantic Records.

After a period of semi-retirement, Connor made a comeback in the mid-70s, making albums with Kenton and Maynard Ferguson and making several successful concert tours. Her most recent albums were released between 2000 and 2003 by High Note Records of New York and Japanese label King Record Co. Ltd.

Connor's last public show came in 2004, when she performed on a New York club stage with noted jazz vocalist Anita O'Day.