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Marlena Shaw, ‘California Soul’ Singer, Dies at 81

Marlena Shaw, the jazz and soul singer best known for her 1969 recording of “California Soul,” has died. She was 81.

Shaw’s daughter, Marla Bradshaw, confirmed her death in a video posted on Facebook on Friday (Jan. 19).

“It’s with a very heavy heart that for myself and our family, I announce that our beloved mother, your beloved icon and artist, Marlena Shaw, has passed away today at 12:03,” she said.

“She was peaceful,” she continued. “We were at peace. I know that you just saw posts of [a] birthday celebration just as soon as yesterday, and my twin sister and I were very grateful — and our family — that she was here in celebration for that.”

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No cause of death was given at the time of publication.

“Right now, she’s at peace. She’s in Heaven. I do know that,” Shaw’s daughter added. She shared that “she went listening to some of her favorite songs.”

Born on Sept. 22, 1939, as Marlina Burgess in New Rochelle, New York, the singer has said her uncle Jimmy Burgess got her into music. Burgess was a jazz trumpet player.

Shaw (which became her stage name) is known for her release of “California Soul,” which was written by Ashford & Simpson and made available in 1969 under Cadet Records, a subsidiary of Chess Records. There, she released the albums Out of Different Bags (1967) and The Spice of Life (1969), the latter of which featured the oft-sampled songs “California Soul” and “Woman of the Ghetto.”

“California Soul” has been sampled by a number of artists, including Gang Starr and Stereo MC, and Diplo released a remix of the song in 2008. The track has also been licensed for use in several commercials, including ads for Dodge, KFC and Dockers.

“I think it’s great,” she said in a 2009 interview of hearing her music sampled. “I really do. Number one, I love the surprise of it and like to hear what somebody else’s idea is.”

“But this kinda makes me feel like I’m the sun, you know, and I shine on all kinds of things,” she added with a laugh.

Shaw also released several recordings under Blue Note Records, and music on labels including Columbia and Verve. Verve shared in a statement, “We are saddened by the passing of Marlena Shaw, a wonderful singer whose ‘California Soul’ is as popular today as it ever was and whose album It Is Love: Recorded Live at Vine St. helped relaunch the Verve label in 1987.”

Shaw has said that performing live “has been my saving grace.” She explained, “I really consistently worked live. All kinds of venues, the big bands, the small bands — because I love it.”

The singer’s family has shared an address for those who wish to send condolences:

Ms. Marlena Shaw & Family
P.O. Box 335774
N. Las Vegas, NV 89033

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