We here at the editorial board raise a glass also to the jazz singer Marion Montgomery who sadly lost her battle with cancer on 22nd July, aged 67. Born Marian Maud Runnels in Natchez, Mississippi on November 17th 1934, where her father (Forrest Marion Runnels) ran a luxurious hotel, her nursemaid Louise may have introduced Marion to the music to which she dedicated her life – jazz. What is certain is that from her she learnt first hand about the politics of the south at the time. She determined to become a singer by the time she was eight years old, later dropping out of college to sing on television in Atlanta, Georgia and subsequently working in advertising and publicity whilst studying music and drama. Throughout the 1950s she worked night clubs, bars and, much to her father’s displeasure, strip joints which caused a family rift that took a number of years to heal. Marion’s years on the road refined her talent, creating her effortless jazz timing. By the early 1960s she had become a regular at night clubs in Los Angels, Las Vegas and New York. Through Peggy Lee’s influence she was signed to Capitol records, releasing her first album “Swings For Winners And Losers” in the early months of 1963 and, before the end of the year, “Let There Be Marian Montgomery” along with a studio band led by Dave Cavanaugh. Soon she was being feted by the likes of Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Nelson Riddle and Johnny Mercer.
In 1965 she released “What's New” and “Lovin' is Livin” followed shortly after by her first ever UK gig. During her stay she met composer Laurie Holloway, and five months later the pair were married in Gainesville, Georgia, returning to the UK to spend the rest of her life on our shores, incidentally adopting the conventional English spelling of her Christian name. Her first major UK television appearance was on the satirical show “Not Only ... But Also” in February 1966, returning for the Christmas special, which also featured John Lennon. Around the same period, she made her London West End stage debut in Cameron Mackintosh’s production of Cole Porter's “Anything Goes”.
As the sixties gave way to the seventies, she became a near-fixture at Soho’s Ronnie Scott's jazz club, as well as working with the likes of Stephane Grapelli, Dizzie Gillespie, Buddy Tate, Ray Charles, Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine. Her most regular musical partner was Richard Rodney Bennett, with whom she devised a touring review. Their partnership also produced three acclaimed albums: “Town and Country” (1978), “Surprise Surprise” (1981) and “Puttin' on the Ritz” (1984).
In 1995, she and her husband set up the Montgomery Holloway Charitable Trust, which provided music education for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Marion had suffered from the effects of cancer for ten years, which she believed was caused by passive smoking when working in smoky clubs, never having smoked herself. Despite her illness, she continued to perform, almost to the end.