Janet Thurlow, Jazz Singer & Widow of Trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, Dies at 96

Janet Thurlow, the jazz singer and widow of famed trombonist Jimmy Cleveland who performed with Lionel Hampton’s orchestra and helped give Quincy Jones an early career boost, has died. She was 96.

Thurlow died Oct. 4 congestive heart failure at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, California, her family announced.

Thurlow first met Cleveland in 1951 when she joined Hampton’s band and he was playing with the vibes legend. They married two years later and performed together often until his death in 2008 at age 82.

The first of five children, Janet Lorraine Thurlow was born in Seattle on May 21, 1926. She received violin, piano and voice lessons as a youngster and played violin on a radio talent show hosted by Major Edward Bowes.

She began as a song stylist with Robert “Bumps” Blackwell’s Seattle-based band in 1949 before she was recruited by Hampton. She then pushed the bandleader to hire Jones, a trumpeter and friend from Seattle.

In August 1951, Thurlow and Jones were prominently featured as “Two Seattleites” on the bill of a Hampton show at the city’s popular Trianon Ballroom.

She later recorded “I Can’t Believe You’re in Love With Me” with Hampton for the Decca label, making her perhaps the first white singer to front an all-Black big band.

The skilled Cleveland fronted several albums of his own and recorded with the likes of Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Sarah Vaughan, James Brown, Miles Davis, Teddy Edwards and Diana Washington.

He and his wife moved from New York to Lynwood in 1967 when he began playing in the band on The Merv Griffin Show.

Survivors include her sister, Carolyn, nieces Carol and Julie and nephew Martin. A memorial service will be held at noon Saturday at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Gate, California.

This article was originally published by The Hollywood Reporter.

Katie Atkinson