Susannah McCorkle, a jazz and cabaret singer who performed in major clubs and concert halls throughout the country, died this morning. She was 55.
Police said a preliminary investigation indicated that McCorkle jumped to her death from her Manhattan apartment. The singer left a suicide note but investigators declined to reveal its contents. Messages left by phone at McCorkle's offices and those of her representatives were not immediately returned today.
McCorkle was known for a gimmick-free style that evoked both warmth and humor, and for an ability to convey a wide range of emotions across a repertoire of over 2,000 songs. "She may have been the finest of all the cabaret artists that we've had at the Oak Room," said Arthur Pomposello, manager of the famous night spot in Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel. "In fact, she may have been the best jazz singer working in cabaret, and that's a credit to her talent." Born in Berkeley, Cal., McCorkle grew up listening to top 40 tunes and Broadway show albums. In 1970, however, while living in Europe and studying languages, McCorkle discovered jazz after hearing the legendary singer Billie Holiday. McCorkle quickly shifted careers and started singing in jazz clubs in Italy and Great Britain. Her first collection of jazz was released in 1976. She was also an accomplished writer, whose work has appeared in The O. Henry Awards Prize Stories, New York magazine, Newsday, and Cosmopolitan. She was working on a novel at the time of her death.
Critics have called her one of the finest jazz-pop singers in America. A 1987 release called Dream and featuring Frank Wess, formerly of the Count Basie Orchestra, was a "pick of the week" in The New York Times and Billboard. The collection received a five star rating from jazz critic and historian Leonard Feather in the Los Angeles Times, and also won rave reviews from People and Stereo Review. Her 1986 album How Do You Keep The Music Playing? won a Stereo Review Record of the Year Award and made the top ten lists for that year from both United Press International and Newhouse national wire services. Feather called it "The best vocal album of the year" and named her "Singer of the Year" in his Los Angeles Times column.