Jazz and blues vocalist Catherine Russell, a native of New York City, was born with distinctive bloodlines. Her father was Luis Russell, the renowned big-band leader who was born in Panama and lived in New Orleans and New York City. He was a groundbreaking vintage jazzman -- a pianist, composer/arranger, and most prominently, the music director for Louis Armstrong in the mid-'40s. Her mother was Carline Ray, a veteran jazz bassist, vocalist, graduate of the Juilliard and Manhattan Schools of Music, and famous for performing with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Mary Lou Williams, and Wynton Marsalis, among many others. Naturally Catherine Russell was influenced by old-time blues and jazz singers like Bessie Smith, Ruth Brown, and Etta James, as well as the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Nancy Wilson, Abbey Lincoln, and gospel and opera music. But she was a late bloomer, not establishing a recording career as a leader until much later in life.
Ray has appeared at numerous festivals and on nationally syndicated radio and television shows. As a backup singer, she has worked with Paul Simon, David Bowie, Steely Dan, Cyndi Lauper, Jackson Browne, Rosanne Cash, Joan Osborne, and Madonna. One may have also heard her voice on TV and radio commercials for Bud Light, Oil of Olay, J.C. Penney, and Dairy Queen, or singing jazz with groups including bassist Earl May, pianist Larry Ham, drummer Eddie Locke, or Jimmy Wormworth, Russell emerged as a retro old-school vocalist for the ages. She finally debuted on her own in the 2000s with Cat (2006) for the World Village label, with guitarist Frank Portolese and banjo or mandolin player Stuart J. Rosenberg, followed by Sentimental Streak (2008) featuring guitarist/producer Larry Campbell and special guests Howard Johnson and Steven Bernstein, recorded at the studios of Levon Helm in Woodstock, New York. The following decade, Russell released Strictly Romancin' (2012), Bring It Back (2014), and Harlem on My Mind (2016), the last of which was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Jazz Vocal Album. ~ Michael G. Nastos