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Nellie Lutcher

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Nellie Lutcher (October 15, 1912 – June 8, 2007) was an African-American rhythm & blues and jazz singer and pianist, who gained prominence in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She was most recognizable for her diction and exaggerated pronunciation, and was credited as an influence by Nina Simone among others.

She was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the eldest daughter of the 15 children of Isaac and Suzie Lutcher. Her father was a bass player, and her mother a church organist. She received piano lessons, and her father formed a family band with Nellie playing piano. At age 12, she played with Ma Rainey, when Rainey’s regular pianist fell ill and had to be left behind in the previous town. Searching for a temporary replacement in Lake Charles, one of the neighbors told her there was a little girl who played in church who might be able to do it.
Aged 14, Lutcher joined her father in Clarence Hart’s Imperial Jazz Band, and in her mid-teens also briefly married the band’s trumpet player. In 1933, she joined the Southern Rhythm Boys, writing their arrangements and touring widely. In 1935, she moved to Los Angeles, where she married Leonel Lewis and had a son. She began to play swing piano, and also to sing, in small combos throughout the area, and began developing her own style, influenced by Earl Hines, Duke Ellington and her friend Nat “King” Cole.
She was not widely known until 1947 when she learned of the March of Dimes talent show at Hollywood High School, and performed.

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