King with Dean Martin, 1968.
|Birth name||Maria Grazia Morgana Messina|
|Born||June 4, 1930
Pleasantville, New York, U.S.
|Genres||Vocal jazz, cool jazz, jazz blues, bossa nova, bebop, traditional pop|
|Labels||Ascot, EmArcy, Mainstream, Mercury, Muse, Paramount, Reprise, Savoy, United Artists, Verve, Wing|
King was born Maria Grazia Morgana Messina in Pleasantville, New York. Her parents were from Fiumefreddo di Sicilia, Province of Catania, Sicily. She grew up in New York City with five siblings. Her father, who owned a coal and ice business, played the piano and guitar by ear. Her family experienced a difficult financial period after her father died.
Around the age of thirteen her vocal gifts were recognized when she was overheard singing the aria "I'll See You Again" from Noël Coward's operetta Bitter Sweet. At age 16 she developed a love for big bands. A scholarship to the Metropolitan School of Music soon followed.
Her professional singing career began at age sixteen as Morgana King. When she sang in a Greenwich Village nightclub in 1953, a record label executive took interest after being impressed with the unique phrasing and multi-octave range. Three years later in 1956, her first album, For You, For Me, For Evermore, was released.
In the first appearance of Leonard G. Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz (1960), Morgana King stated that her ambition was "… to become a dramatic actress." She began her acting career in The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, as Carmela Corleone, wife of Don Vito Corleone. In the film, she sang the song "Luna mezzo mare". King appeared as herself in the television documentary The Godfather: Behind the Scenes (1971). She reprised the role in The Godfather: Part II (1974).
King headlined clubs, concert halls and hotels, and toured throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and South America; e.g.: Basin Street; bla-bla café; Blue Note; Blue Room at the Supper Club; Café Leon; Club Bali; Cotton Club; Fat Tuesday's; Jilly's; Joe Howard's Place; Kenny's Castaways; Lainie's Room; Les Mouches; Lush Life; Mr. Sam's; Rainbow Grill; Reno Sweeney; Scullers; Sniffen Court; Sweet Basil; The Metropole; Town Hall; the Waterbury Hotels; and Trude Heller's.
A few of the venue performances during her active career: the March 1956 Easter Jazz Festival at Town Hall in New York City; she opened Trude Heller's in July 1957 and returned throughout her career for anniversary performances; four months later, in November 1957, along with seven female jazz instrumentalists, she performed at the Jazz Female concert held at Carnegie Recital Hall; the Schaefer Music Festival in June 1976; A Tribute to Billie Holiday at the Hollywood Bowl in July 1979; the AIDS Research – Benefit Bash in 1983, the Benefit for the Theater Off Park in May 1988; the 2nd annual WPBX Jazz Festival at the Fine Arts Theater in August 1989. While performing in Lisbon, Portugal, she was interviewed by the television show host Henrique Mendes at the television station RTP (the sole television station at that time)."
A limited list of artists who performed and/or recorded with Morgana King over the years of her career are Ben Aronov, Ronnie Bedford, Ed Caccavale (drums), Clifford Carter, Don Costa, Eddie Daniels, Sue Evans, Larry Fallon, Sammy Figueroa, John Kaye (percussion), Helen Keane, Art Koenig, Steve LaSpina, Scott Lee, Jay Leonhart, Ray Mantilla, Bill Mays, Charles McCracken, Ted Nash, Adam Nussbaum, Warren Odze, Joe Puma, Don Rebic, Jack Wilkins, Joe Williams (bass), and Torrie Zito.
Her repertoire contains more than two hundred songs on more than thirty albums. Most of her recordings and re-issues have not remained in the catalogs. In 1964, she received a Grammy Award nomination in 1964 for Best New Artist.
The UCLA Music Library's Jimmy Van Heusen papers include a letter dated September 5, 1965 pertaining to "songs… to be given to Morgana King." She recorded three songs by Van Heusen: "Here's That Rainy Day" (on It's a Quiet Thing, 1965), "Like Someone in Love" (on Stardust, 1986; and Another Time, Another Space, 1992) and "Imagination" (on Looking Through The Eyes Of Love, 1998). King's 1967 single "I Have Loved Me A Man" appeared in the US "Easy Listening" survey and the Australian Top 20, according to the Kent Music Report.
Morgana King appeared in five films, including The Godfather Parts I and II (1972 and 1974).
Beginning with The Andy Williams Show and The Hollywood Palace in 1964. For more than a decade she performed on television talk and variety shows including The Mike Douglas Show, The Dean Martin Show and The David Frost Show.
King announced her retirement from performing during an engagement at the Cotton Club in Chicago on Friday, December 10, 1993, and added that her recording would not be affected by the decision. She continued to perform after that date at the Ballroom, Maxim's, Mirage Night Club (a benefit jazz session), and Roosevelt Hotel's Cinegrill. Her last film appearance was in the film A Brooklyn State of Mind (1987).
Relationships and family
Morgana King married twice. Her first marriage (when she was 17 years old) was to jazz trumpeter Tony Fruscella (1927–1969), which ended in divorce after nine years; they had a daughter, Graysan (1950–2008). During their marriage, the couple frequently had "Sunday dinner with Charlie Parker and his family."
Her second marriage, in 1961, was to jazz trombonist Willie Dennis (né William DeBerardinis; 1926–1965), whom she met during an off-night visit to the Birdland Jazz Club where she went to hear Sam Donahue's group. He had performed with both Gerry Mulligan and Charles Mingus and recorded the 1953 album release, Four Trombones on Mingus' record label, Debut Records. He had toured extensively with Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and Buddy Rich. His skills and prior experience helped her to compose her album, With a Taste of Honey. She traveled to Brazil with Dennis to experience this "new" music style when he toured with Rich in 1960. She said the experience was "an introduction to myself." Their close collaboration was suddenly shattered in 1965 with his death from an automobile accident in New York's Central Park.It's a Quiet Thing (Reprise, 1965) is a memorial to him.
After Dennis's death, King relocated and lived for more than two decades in Malibu, California. She accepted Frank Sinatra's offer to record three albums on his record label Reprise Records (It's A Quiet Thing (1965), Wild Is Love (1966) and Gemini Changes (1967)).
King's voice is notable for its four-octave range. She continued to pursue new forms of expression and presentation by exploring current music trends, which can be heard and read from the list of songs and composers on more than thirty albums. She ventured into new creative areas throughout her career all the while keeping contact with her musical point of origin in jazz. Her distinctive sound has its criticism and detractors.
In literature, the Library of Jazz Standards by Ronny Schiff (2002) recognizes Morgana King as one of the performers who made famous the songs "Imagination" (Van Heusen, Burke), "Like Someone in Love" (Van Heusen, Burke) and "Will You Be Mine" (Adair, Dennis). Also, there is the occasional mention of her in fiction.
King has been credited with composing "Moe's Blues", a song recorded by Beverly Kenney on Beverly Kenney Sings for Johnny Smith (1955), and "Simply Eloquent", with Monte Oliver, which appears on an album of the same title, initially released in 1986 by Muse Records. In 1991, she produced a set of seminars called Morgana King Fine Arts Series. The seminars brought together small groups for recurring meetings every few months held at select venues including Lincoln Center. One of the functions of the series was to familiarize participants with performance methodologies. There was a panel available to critique the performances.
Her signature song is "A Taste Of Honey", originally released on the album With A Taste of Honey (Mainstream Records, 1964). Her most re-issued songs are "My Funny Valentine", from Everything Must Change (Muse, 1978), and the title track of For You, For Me, For Evermore (EmArcy Records, 1956).
|1997||A Brooklyn State of Mind||Aunt Rose|
|1987||A Time to Remember, aka Miracle in a Manger||Mama Theresa|
|1974||The Godfather: Part II||Carmela Corleone|
|1972||The Godfather||Carmela Corleone|