Earlene Reed Harvey, a noted Baltimore jazz vocalist who performed withNatalie Cole, James Brown, Della Reese among other notables, died June 27 of congestive heart failure at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The Overlea resident was 77.
“Earlene was a legend,” said Rosa “Rambling Rose” Pryor-Trusty, an author, musician, singer, songwriter and music promoter. “Her voice was very sultry, like Sarah Vaughan’s. She was an Old School of Jazz balladier, and when she was onstage singing used a lot of facial gestures. She was very unique.”
The former Earlene Reed, who was the daughter of Johnny Nehemiah Reed, a career noncommissioned Army officer, and his wife, Early Vee Reed, a nurse and seamstress, was born in Orlando, Fla., and later moved with her family to a home in Edmondson Village.
Ms. Harvey, who loved the theater and planned on becoming a professional dancer as a young girl, was also drawn to music while in high school.
A 1960 graduate of Edmondson High School, where she earned a diploma in music, studied vocal coaching and music theory at Peabody Institute’s music conservatory.
“It was at Peabody that Earlene discovered her own unique sultry finesse, which would soon transgress racial and cultural barriers,” Ms. Pryor-Trusty, a Reisterstown resident wrote in her 2013 book, “African-American Community, History & Entertainment in Maryland.”
Ms. Harvey, who sang professionally as Earlene Reed, made her jazz debut with the Fuzzy Kane Trio, which had been founded by Louis W. “Fuzzy” Kane in the 1960s, at Le Coq d’Or in the 2600 block of Pennsylvania Ave., “one of the nation’s first black-owned supper clubs,” Ms. Pryor-Trusty wrote.
“It was Fuzzy who got me into professional show business, so I have lots of respect for him. He was like a brother to me,” Ms. Harvey told The Baltimore Sun in a 2011 interview. “Musically, he was absolutely the tops, and extremely knowledgeable. We toured a lot, and I had many great opportunities working with him.”
In 1978, Ms. Harvey began her solo career at the fabled Sphinx Club, which the Fuzzy Kane Trio played regularly.
“Becoming a headliner at Pennsylvania Avenue’s legendary Sphinx Club was no easy feat," Ms. Pryor-Trusty wrote. “Ms. Reed, however, not only secured a solo performance but performed at the Sphinx Club until it closed in 1992.
“It was during these years, that Earlene mastered the art of being not only a singer but a true entertainer. No other singer could captivate an audience quite like Ms. Reed. Whether she was singing, dancing or just getting the audience involved in the performance, she was a professional who truly loved entertaining,” she wrote.
“Ms. Reed’s ability to pierce your heart with her sultry voice commanded your attention. She had a natural ability to warm the soul, while doing so with poise, elegance and grace,” Ms. Pryor-Trusty wrote.
James “Biddy” Wood, Ms. Reed’s manager, who was married to Damita Jo, also a supper club jazz singer and national recording artist who performed extensively at Atlantic City hotels and casinos, introduced her to the fabled resort.
“I owe everything to Damita Jo [a Baltimore recording star who plays regularly Atlantic City], who brought me up for an audition last spring,” Ms. Harvey told The Sun in a 1983 interview. “She gave me the break to get into the business, which was a very nice thing.”
Ms. Pryor-Trusty said “very few Baltimore singers ever perform outside of Baltimore,” but due to her extraordinary talent, she began opening for Damita Jo at the Claridge Hotel, and later performed at the Golden Nugget Casino, and the Playboy Club. Other venues included Trump Castle, Resorts International, and the Sheraton and Hilton hotels.
Other artists she performed with included James Brown, Della Reese, Natalie Cole, Howard Hewett, bassist Montell Poulson, jazz guitarist O’Donel Levy, R & B performer Chico Johnson, blues musician and saxophonist Carlos Johnson and jazz drummer Warren Gant.
When she wasn’t playing Atlantic City, Ms. Harvey returned to Baltimore where she rejoined the Fuzzy Kane Trio, performing in the Flag Room of the old Penn Hotel in Towson, where she was billed as a “song stylist.”
Other local venues in addition to the Sphinx Club included Ethel’s Place, the Soul Shack in Lexington Market West, Lenny Moore’s Club 24 and Sportsman’s Lounge, both in Gwynn Oak, Godfrey’s Famous ballroom on North Charles Street, and even Tijuana Tacos, a Belvedere Square Tex-Mex joint.
Ms. Harvey also took jazz to city public schools, performing with Charles Covington. She performed at Jimmy Carter’s 1977 presidential inauguration and Martin O’Malley’s 1999 mayoral inauguration.
In 1986, she received the Walters Art Museum’s Outstanding Performer Award and the Maryland Jazz Summerfest Benefit Inc.'s Most Distinguished Service Award and was presented the city’s Meritorious Award for Outstanding Performance by state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III.
She was also the recipient in 1987 of the Mayor’s Citation for Outstanding Achievement in Music by then-Mayor Clarence H. “Du” Burns, and the city council’s Most Outstanding Achievement in the Enrichment of Music.
She retired from performing about 15 years ago, said a daughter, Dawn Scott, of Pikesville, who said her mother then worked for several years as an accounts manager for the MBNA America in Hunt Valley.
One of her music idols was Frank Sinatra, whose recordings she enjoyed playing loudly.
“She liked sitting on her porch and listening to Frank Sinatra. That’s what she wanted to do more than anything,” Ms. Scott said. “That was it, and she liked being outside in nature.”
Ms. Harvey was also a devotee of Southern cooking, Turner Classic Movies, and reruns of television comedy shows “I Love Lucy” and “The Golden Girls,” her daughter said.
“It was never fame Earlene desired. She merely loved to sing and just wanted to be the best she could in her craft,” Ms. Pryor-Trusty wrote. “Earlene loved to get lost in music and bring emotion to her audiences. Whether she brought her audience to tears while singing ‘Send in the Clowns’ or to laughter with ‘The One-Eyed Man,’ Earlene did so not for money but for the love of the Art of Music and entertaining people.”
A celebration of life service for Ms. Harvey will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at the Vaughn Greene Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown.
In addition to her daughter, Ms. Harvey is survived by her husband of 35 years, John Harvey, a mechanical engineer; two sons, Herschel Cooper of Sandtown-Winchester and David Cooper of Park Heights; another daughter, Desiree Jackson of Pikesville; a stepson, Johnny Harvey of Sandtown-Winchester; 10 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Clifton Cooper ended in divorce