Anita Belle Colton was born on October 18, 1919 in Kansas City, Missouri. Colton left home at age 12 and assumed the stage surname "O'Day" while employed as a walkathon and dance marathon contestant. She began singing professionally at age 19 in taverns around Chicago and earned a reputation for her improvisatory skills and unique vocal qualities. In 1941, O'Day joined the Gene Krupa Orchestra and became an overnight sensation with her hit "Let Me Off Uptown." She sang with Stan Kenton's big band from 1944 to 1945 and returned to Krupa's band from 1945 to 1946. Her career quickly became marred by constant drug use and incarceration, and it was not until the mid-1950s that O'Day's solo career reformed itself into a commercially successful enterprise. She recorded a string of successful albums with Verve Records and arranger Buddy Bregman, including Anita and Pick Yourself Up . O'Day continued to perform to rave reviews, appearing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 and actively touring throughout the United States, Japan (1964), and Europe (circa 1970). Her performance of "Tea for Two" in Bert Stern's documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day (1958) is widely regarded as one of the finest jazz performances on film. In 1972, she established her own record label, Anita O'Day Records.
A period of mediocre gigs in the 1970s ended with O'Day's 1976 residency at the New York nightclub Hopper's and recruitment of savvy manager and press agent Alan Eichler. Strong reviews for appearances at Studio One's Backlot further revived her career and contributed to the eventual penning of her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times in 1981. O'Day launched the record label Emily in the early 1980s with Elaine and John Poole, the latter being her longtime drummer and former live-in partner. She performed at Carnegie Hall in 1985 in celebration of her fiftieth year in jazz and continued to actively record and tour until 1996, when an accident and subsequent mistreatment hospitalized her for over two years. O'Day resumed performances thereafter, celebrating her eightieth birthday with an appearance at Hollywood's Palladium. She died from pneumonia on November 23, 2006, in Los Angeles.
From the guide to the Anita O'Day Papers, 1937-2004, 1940s-1970s, (Music Division Library of Congress)