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Soulful Icon Marlena Shaw, Voice of 'California Soul,' Dies at 81

Photo Credit: Cadet Records
Marlena Shaw, the revered soul and jazz vocalist whose voice graced timeless hits like "California Soul" and "Woman of the Ghetto," has died at the age of 81. The news was confirmed by Shaw's daughter, Marla Bradshaw, in a video posted on Facebook on Friday. No cause of death was given.

“It’s with a very heavy heart for myself and my family I announce that our beloved mother, your beloved icon and artist Marlena Shaw has passed away today at 12:03,” Bradshaw shared. “She was peaceful. We were at peace.”

Shaw's musical journey began in 1966 when she signed with Chess Records. Her rise to prominence came through Cadet Records, a subsidiary of Chess, where she released two defining albums: "Out of Different Bags" (1967) and "The Spice of Life" (1969). The latter featured the iconic "California Soul," penned by Ashford & Simpson. With its infectious groove and optimistic lyrics, the song became an instant classic, later sampled by countless artists and featured in numerous films and TV shows, solidifying its place as a timeless treasure.
In 1972, Shaw transitioned to Blue Note Records, where she continued to release critically acclaimed albums like "Marlena" (1972), "From the Depths of My Soul" (1973) and the live album "Marlena Shaw Live at Montreux" (1974). Her prolific career spanned eight record labels and yielded a total of 17 albums, each showcasing her versatility and artistic depth.
While "California Soul" remains her most recognized song, Shaw's repertoire extended far beyond this single hit. Her soulful renditions of "Feel Like Making Love," "Loving You Was Like A Party" and "Go Away Little Boy" captivated audiences with their raw emotion and playful energy. Her 1990 Grammy nomination for her cover of "Is You or Is You Ain't My Baby" further cemented her place as a vocal powerhouse with an impressive range.

Beyond her solo career, Shaw's musical tapestry became a treasure trove for hip-hop artists.

Jay-Z's iconic "California Love" wove Shaw's vocals into a smooth West Coast anthem, while Gang Starr's "Check the Technique" laid a gritty boom-bap foundation with the song's chorus. But Shaw's influence wasn't limited to this one hit. DJ Shadow's "Organ Donor" chopped and reimagined "Loving You Was Like a Party" into a mesmerizing soundscape, and Laika reclaimed the iconic melody for female empowerment in her own "California Soul." Even the defiant fire of "Go Away Little Boy" found new life in Xzhibit's hard-hitting "Infiltrator."

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