February 12, 2017 – Al Jarreau was born Alwin Lopez Jarreau on March 12, 1940 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the fifth in a family of 6 children.
His father was a Seventh-day Adventist Church minister and singer, and his mother was a church pianist. Jarreau and his family sang together in church concerts and in benefits, and he and his mother performed at PTA meetings.
Jarreau went on to attend Ripon College, where he also sang with a group called the Indigos. He graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Science in psychology. Two years later, in 1964, he earned a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa. Moving to San Franciso during the 1967 summer of love, Jarreau worked as a rehabilitation counselor and moonlighted with a jazz trio headed by George Duke. In San Francisco, Al’s natural musical gifts began to shape his future and by the late 60s, he knew without a doubt that he would make singing his life. He joined forces with acoustic guitarist Julio Martinez to “spell” up-and-coming comics John Belushi, Bette Midler, Robert Klein, David Brenner, Jimmie Walker and others at the famed comedy venue, THE IMPROV and soon the duo became the star attraction at a small Sausalito night club called Gatsby’s. This success contributed to Jarreau’s decision to make professional singing his life and full-time career.
In 1968, Jarreau made jazz his primary occupation and in 1969, Jarreau and Martinez headed south, where Jarreau appeared at Dino’s, The Troubadour, and Bitter End West. Television exposure came from Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, and David Frost. During this period, he became involved with the United Church of Religious Science and the Church of Scientology. Also, roughly at the same time, he began writing his own lyrics, finding that his Christian spirituality began to influence his work.
Little is written about Al’s work in the first half of the 1970s, but by 1975, when Jarreau was working with pianist Tom Canning his big break came when he was spotted by Warner Bros. Records talent scouts and was signed to a recording contract. On Valentine’s Day 1976 he sang on the thirteenth episode of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, that week hosted by Peter Boyle. Soon he released his critically acclaimed debut album, We Got By, which catapulted him to international fame and won an Echo Award (the German equivalent of the Grammys in the United States). A second Echo Award would follow with the release of his second album, Glow. In 1978, he won his first Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for his album, Look To The Rainbow – a live double album – cementing Al’s global breakthrough. The album was was culled from his first world tour from that same year and earned him his first Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.
Even though Jazz stayed his main musical direction, his incredible vocal skills more often pulled him into R&B and Pop after reaching this level of fame. Billboard hits were hits “We’re in This Love Together” and “Breakin’ Away”, while he also scored big for the theme song to the 1980s TV show “Moonlighting”, that launched Bruce Willis acting career.
His fourth album, ALL FLY HOME, was released in 1978 to further accolades and a second Grammy for Best Jazz Vocalist. It was followed by 1980’s THIS TIME, and the million-selling BREAKIN’ AWAY, which brought him a broader audience and two more Grammy’s with awards for Best Male Pop Vocalist and Best Male Jazz Vocalist.
In 1983 JARREAU was released, followed closely the following year by HIGH CRIME. Both albums spawned a string of R&B and pop hits, and further cemented him as an international superstar. AL JARREAU- LIVE IN LONDON, recorded before a SRO crowd at Wembley Arena in 1985, continued to solidify Jarreau’s reputation as a world-class master of both studio and stage. Following the live album, Jarreau teamed with top producer Nile Rodgers for L IS FOR LOVER, which brought some new styles and sounds to the singer’s repertoire.
He continued to top the stateside charts in 1987 and became a weekly guest in America’s living rooms singing the Grammy nominated theme song for the hit television series MOONLIGHTING.
With hardly time to take a breath, he launched into the recording of the Heart’s Horizon album, which contained the #2 R&B smash »So Good« and earned him another GRAMMY nomination. After touring the globe for nearly two years, he returned to the studio to fashion the sound that would launch him into his third decade of music-making. The result was 1992’s HEAVEN AND EARTH for which he received his fifth GRAMMY. With this, he became one the rare artists to have won GRAMMY’S in the three categories of jazz, pop, and R&B.
In 1994, TENDERNESS was released. On this Marcus Miller-produced gem, Jarreau is joined by an all-star cast (David Sanborn, Kathleen Battle, Joe Sample, Steve Gadd, to name a few) to bring us a host of familiar contemporary compositions and to revisit a few Jarreau classics.
1996 brought some exciting career challenges. While on a break from touring, Jarreau accepted a three-month stint on Broadway playing the role of Teen Angel in the hit musical GREASE! Other credits from those days include guest star appearances on NEW YORK UNDERCOVER or TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.
Called “the voice of versatility” by the Chicago Tribune and “one of the world’s greatest natural resources” by the Detroit News, Jarreau added a new chapter to his twenty-five-year recording career with TOMORROW TODAY (2001) and received his own Star on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’, on March 6 that year, commemorating his status as one of the best singers of his generation.
In 2004 his ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE (2004) album, was, once again, nominated for a Grammy.
Al’s 40th year in the music business saw another landmark with the pairing up with his peer the legendary R&B guitarist & singer, George Benson, for the album GIVIN’ IT UP. Recorded in Spring of 2006, this record featured many guest artists including Herbie Hancock, Sir Paul McCartney, Jill Scott, Chris Botti and Patti Austin, amongst others musical veterans. GIVIN’ IT UP was released to critical acclaim on October 24, 2006 and garnered 3 more Grammy nominations.
He remained one of the hardest working men in show business, and in 2009 put together THE VERY BEST OF AL JARREAU: AN EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.
Al Jarreau’s unique vocal style was one of the world’s more precious treasures. His innovative musical expressions made him one of the most exciting and critically-acclaimed performers of our time with seven Grammy Awards, scores of international music awards and popular accolades worldwide.
Al continued to tour extensively worldwide with his sextet and Symphony shows. On Feb. 8, 2017 he announced that he had to retire from touring, during a two week hospital stay. He passed from respiratory illness on February 12, 2017 at the age of 76.