Al Jarreau

Al Jarreau was the quintessential contemporary jazz artist, and the first vocalist in music history to receive Grammy Awards in three separate categories (jazz, pop and R&B).


Singer-songwriter Al Jarreau was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on March 12, 1940. His first album was released in 1965. The quintessential contemporary jazz artist recorded more than two dozen albums over several decades, becoming the first vocalist in music history to receive Grammy Awards in three separate categories (jazz, pop and R&B). In 1996, the Best of Al Jarreau compilation was released, featuring his career hits. He died on February 12, 2017 at the age of 76. 

Early Life

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Al Jarreau was born Alwin Lopez Jarreau in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on March 12, 1940. Jarreau grew up in a religious household. His father was a minister, and Al began singing in the church choir at the age of 4. In 1960, he graduated from Wisconsin's Ripon College, where he performed locally with a group called the Indigos on weekends. After earning his master's degree in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa, Jarreau moved to San Francisco to begin a brief career as a social worker. There, his desire to sing persisted, and he found himself performing at a small jazz club with a trio headed by George Duke.

Career Highlights

In addition to playing in small clubs along the West Coast, Jarreau branched out to performing in New York City, and making television appearances on Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin's talk shows, among others. His first album, 1965, released that year, was pure jazz featuring pianist Cal Bezemer, bassist Gary Allen and drummer Joe Abodeely.

In 1975, after a 10-year break from recording, Jarreau went back to the studio to produce We Got By, his first release for Warner Bros. Records. During the next two decades, Jarreau would release almost an album per year. Career highlights include 1981's Breakin' Away, which went platinum thanks to the hit single "We're in This Love Together" and the popular theme song from the 1980s TV show Moonlighting.

Multiple Grammys

In 1977, Jarreau embarked on his first world tour and won his first American Grammy Award, for best jazz vocal performance for his album Look to the Rainbow. His fourth album, All Fly Home, was released in 1978, earning a second Grammy for best jazz vocalist. In 1985, Al Jarreau's Live in London, recorded at Wembley Arena, helped solidify his reputation as a world-class master of both studio and stage. Breakin' Away won two more Grammys, for best male pop vocalist and best male jazz vocalist.

In 1992, after touring the globe for nearly two years, Jarreau returned to the studio to produce Heaven and Earth for which he received his fifth Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance. He released Tenderness in 1994 with an all-star cast, including David Sanborn, Kathleen Battle, Joe Sample and Steve Gadd.

In 1996, Jarreau began a three-month stint on Broadway playing the role of Teen Angel in the hit musical Grease. Other acting credits include appearances on New York Undercover and Touched By An Angel.

In 1996, the Best of Al Jarreau compilation was released on Warner Bros., featuring Jarreau's career hits, "Moonlighting," "We're in This Love Together," "Boogie Down" and "Roof Garden," as well as two new tracks written by George Duke.

In 2001, Jarreau received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He received another Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Performance in 2007 for "God Bless the Child," with George Benson and Jill Scott. 

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Jarreau spoke about the evolution of jazz: "Jazz, whatever we think its purest form is, is a dynamic and changing form," he said. "It will never be the jazz of the 1930s and '40s and '50s, because it's changing and responding to its environment. That environment includes the influences of Michael Jackson, Sting and hip-hop just as much as Charlie Parker or bebop."

Death & Legacy

Jarreau continued to tour, however, in 2017 he was hospitalized for exhaustion and retired from touring "with complete sorrow," according to an announcement on his Twitter account. "He is thankful for his 50 years of traveling the world in ministry through music, and for everyone who shared this with him — his faithful audience, the dedicated musicians, and so many others who supported his effort,” the announcement stated. 

Days later on February 12, 2017, Jarreau died at a Los Angeles hospital at the age of 76 surrounded by family and friends. After his passing, a statement on his website read: "His 2nd priority in life was music. There was no 3rd. His 1st priority, far ahead of the other, was healing or comforting anyone in need. Whether it was emotional pain, or physical discomfort, or any other cause of suffering, he needed to put our minds at ease and our hearts at rest. He needed to see a warm, affirming smile where there had not been one before. Song was just his tool for making that happen."

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