Like many great blues and classic jazz vocalists, the Savannah, GA raised Irene Reid began singing in the church. She was born on September 23, 1930 in Savannah, and attended the Alfred E. Beach/Cuyler High School. There, she learned vocal music from teacher Peter Smalls. In her early days singing around Savannah, it was either in the church or in the high school, and the thought of becoming a blues or jazz singer didn't dawn on her until some time later.
After her mother passed away in 1947, she moved to New York City to live with an aunt. Later that same year, she won the Apollo Theater Amateur contest for five consecutive weeks, and later she was the featured vocalist with Dick Vance at the Savoy Ballroom from 1948-1950. She joined legendary bandleader/pianist Count Basie's band as the featured vocalist in 1961-1962, where she made several European tours with the band. In 1961 she returned to her hometown to perform with Basie at the municipal auditorium. Since her years with Basie's band, Reid has shared stages with Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, and others. She performed at the Savannah Jazz Festival in 1991, 1994, and 1996.
During the '60s, she recorded two big-band albums for Verve Records, Room for One More in 1965, and It's Too Late in 1966. Her most visible job in the post-Basie years was on Broadway, where she joined the cast of The Wiz. By the late '80s, she was coming out of a period of limelight and performed at a remote broadcast from Citicorp Center in Manhattan for Newark jazz station, WBGO-FM. This was the beginning of her career renaissance, which she enjoyed through the late '90s with the Manhattan-based Savant Records label.
Reid passed away on January 4, 2008, but any of her six albums for Savant Records demonstrate just how artfully she blended blues and jazz at her live shows and on record. They include Million Dollar Secret (1997), I Ain't Doin' Too Bad (1999), Movin' Out (1999), Uptown Lowdown (2000), One Monkey Don't Stop No Show (2002), and Thanks to You (2004). At Savant, she recorded with two very skilled Hammond B-3 organist/producers, Bobby Forrester who often performed with singer Ruth Brown, and Charles "The Mighty Burner" Earland. ~ Richard Skelly