McCorkle, Susannah

Alternative names
Birth 1946-01-01
Death 2001-05-19

Biographical notes:

Susannah McCorkle, an American jazz/pop singer and a writer of fiction and journalism, was born in Berkeley, California on January 1, 1946. The daughter of an anthropologist who often switched jobs, her family moved regularly. She graduated from high school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and attended the University of California at Berkeley. After a break from school to travel to Mexico, she received her Bachelors degree in Italian literature in 1969. She then moved to Europe, first to Paris, then to Rome, where she worked as a translator.

In Paris a friend played her a Billie Holiday record, and from that point on McCorkle committed to becoming a singer. (Her only previous singing experience had been performing in community theater while in high school.) She briefly studied voice in Rome and began sitting in with local musicians. She also took a job entertaining on a cruise ship, a memorable trip that inspired stories in her journals. McCorkle moved to London in 1973, where she immediately found work with musicians impressed by her knowledge of songs and her authentic Holiday-inspired sound.

Some of her first gigs in the United States were with the trumpeter Richard Sudhalter's band (1975), although she didn't relocate permanently to New York until 1978. McCorkle's first recordings were made in London: 1975 demo sessions with the pianist Keith Ingham, followed by her first album, The Music Of Harry Warren, on EMI in 1976. In the United States she recorded several albums for the Inner City and Pausa labels until 1988, when she was signed by Concord, for whom she recorded ten albums.

McCorkle eventually established a career based in the cabaret circuit, but her style was more jazz-based than most cabaret artists. She usually performed with a piano trio, but she engaged larger groups on her recordings, featuring arrangements by her musical director Allen Farnham and Rich De Rosa. She also occasionally performed with big bands or orchestras, such as the Eastman Jazz Ensemble, the Little Orchestra Society and the New York Pops. McCorkle toured the country performing and also conducted music workshops for students of all ages.

McCorkle was a talented writer as well as a singer. Her short stories were published in Mademoiselle and other women's magazines in American and in Britain, and one, Ramona by the Sea, won the 1975 O. Henry Award for short fiction. She had an ongoing relationship with American Heritage, producing three profiles of musicians for the magazine in the 1990s, and for two years prior to her death she was at work on a memoir of her early singing career in Rome.

McCorkle struggled with many personal issues in her life. She suffered from an overeating disorder as a teenager, was married and divorced twice, fought breast cancer in 1989-1990, and suffered from manic depression (several members of her family were also afflicted with depression or other mental illness). She committed suicide on May 19, 2001.

From the guide to the Susannah McCorkle papers, 1946-2001, (The New York Public Library. Music Division.)


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Ark ID:


  • Women authors, American


  • Jazz singers


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