Compiled by Sid Gribetz
First published – June 2020
Pages in this Discography:
- Beverly Kenney Session-Based Discography
- Index of Songs Recorded by Beverly Kenney
- Index of Personnel that Recorded with Beverly Kenney
b. January 29, 1932 Harrison, New Jersey
d. April 13, 1960 New York City
Vocalist Beverly Kenney is one of the hidden gems in the treasured vaults of the jazz vocal legacy. She lived a short life and is not well-remembered, but for those who knew her, musician and audience alike, the impact was lasting.
Like a “cool school” saxophonist, Kenney sang with a laid-back detachment that on its surface presented a seemingly distanced and indifferent affect, yet her form possessed an inner reality intensely connected to the lyrics of the song and the deep emotions of artistic expression. In a gentle way she swung in the pocket and took sly liberties with her phrasing that exemplify the best in jazz. Her repertoire was vast, and Kenney sang both the great standards and many lesser known items from the great American songwriters.
Beverly Kenney was born to a working class family in New Jersey in 1932 but left home early to follow her muse. Kenney began her career in earnest singing in fancy Miami nightclubs as a 22 year old in 1954. In 1955 she toured with the Dorsey Brothers orchestra as its vocal stylist. Beverly left the Dorseys and returned to New York to participate in the jazz and beatnik culture scene and befriend its writers, actors and musicians.
Starting in 1956, Kenney recorded six albums (three for the Roost label, and then three for major Decca) accompanied by Basie-ites Joe Newman and Frank Wess, guitar master Johnny Smith, Charlie Shavers, pianist Ellis Larkins, and studio orchestras and big bands.
During these late 1950’s years she worked occasionally at major venues around the country, appeared as part of Lester Young’s group in a Birdland engagement, and performed on national television and radio shows.
Kenney’s talents were quickly recognized by the critics, and she was championed by Barry Ulanov, Nat Hentoff, William B. Williams and Steve Allen.
However, Beverly Kenney apparently was a melancholy and troubled soul. Her life ended tragically when she committed suicide in April 1960 at the age of 28. A promising career was cut short. Yet, many insiders and vocalists from the era long remember her and often comment on her unique talent. Beverly Kenney’s vocal gifts should be commemorated and kept alive.