Staff Picks: 5 Favorite NYC Female Jazz Artists

This month, in appreciation of Women’s History Month, we are re-visiting the music of famous NYC female jazz artists whose compositions are still topping the charts as classics in this genre. These are our favorite NYC female jazz artists who not only strive for greatness, but also made and continue to produce music that inspires us in many ways. Here are our top 5…

1- Adelaide Hall

This native of Brooklyn started her career on Broadway in 1921 before working with Jazz heavy weights like Duke Ellington. Hall was also a major figure during the Harlem Renaissance before moving to Britain, where she had a well-known career. One of her biggest moment in Harlem was her performance in a 1934 show named Chocolate Soldiers, which opened at the Apollo Theater. The show received so much attention and praise that it helped brand the newly opened Apollo Theater get recognized as Harlem’s premier theater! In 1934 (again), her opening at the Cotton Club during the Cotton Club Parade was the largest grossing show there up to that moment. This was also the night when nitrogen smoke was used for the very first time to cover the floor of the stage. Needless to say that this was quite sensational at the time.

Songs to hear: “Ill Wind” – “Primitive Prima Donna” – “Creole Love Call” with Duke Ellington


2- Norah Jones

She performed her first gig on her 16th birthday, singing Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” at a Dallas coffeehouse. Norah Jones was actually born in Brooklyn, New York and currently resides there. She studied jazz piano at the University of North Texas. Her debut album, Come Away With Me (2002) won up to five Grammy awards! And, if you haven’t heard one of her first popular tune “I don’t know why”, listen to it now (you can thank us later).

Hit songs: Come Away With Me – Sunrise – Turn me on – I’ve got to see you again


3- Lena Horne

Born in Brooklyn back in 1917, Lena Horne became a dancer at the Cotton Club at the age of 16 to help her mother before moving to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting. She later returned to her roots in NYC as a nightclub performer, worked in both nightclubs and on TV and while releasing some of her well-received classic albums. Horne’s last concert at New York’s Supper Club was recorded and later released in 1995 as an album called An Evening With Lena Horne: Live at the Supper Club. The album (subsequently) won her a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.

Popular tunes: Stormy Weather – I got rhythm – the lady is a tramp.


4- Billie Holiday

Yes, this jazz singer is originally from Philadelphia, but she lived in New York City from a young age and had a great deal of influence during the Harlem Renaissance. When she was 18, a producer discovered Holiday while she was performing in a Harlem jazz club. This was contributory in getting Billie Holiday to record and work with many jazz stars including Teddy Wilson, Duke Ellington and others. She was also one of the first African-American women to work with a white orchestra, which was quite a remarkable accomplishment at the time. As one the most prominent jazz vocalists of all time, she had a thriving musical career for nearly thirty years.

Some top songs: Summertime – Don’t Explain – God bless the Child – Strange Fruit


5- Lakecia Benjamin

The youngest woman on this list, a native of Manhattan, Lakecia Benjamin has recently been widely praised in jazz circles as one of the most highly sought-after players in soul and jazz music today. She began playing the saxophone in High School before joining the renowned jazz program at NYC’s New School University. Prior to completing school she was already playing with famous jazz figures like Clark Terry and Reggie Workman, which landed her some gigs with acclaimed artists like Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Macy Gray, the Roots, and Anita Baker. She was also recently featured on Jazz Times and MTV music.

Songs: Jump And Shout – Soulsquad – This Christmas


We at Harlem Spirituals/New York Visions are huge fans of Jazz music and culture. Decades ago, we pioneered the development of tourism to Harlem with the creation of our famous Soul Food and Jazz tours, allowing us to share with you our passion for Jazz and for its birthplace of Harlem. Our guided tours showcase the neighborhoods’ most iconic jazz venues such as the Apollo Theater and the Cotton Club, as well as its most famous landmarks. If you are interested in the history of Harlem, the Soul Food and Jazz tour is definitely a must-do: our guide will share with you everything there is to know about the neighborhood’s past and its ongoing renaissance, as well as some good tips if you ever want to come back on your own. if you are interested in finding more to do in New York City, search through our complete range of tours, attractions and activities. We can also tailor-make programs specifically to match your desires and budgets. Harlem Spirituals is the ideal one-stop-shop to simplify your planning! Find more information on or contact us at

Did you know about these artists? Let us know in the comments which one is your favorite, especially if she didn’t make it to the list. And if our list got you in the mood for a little bit of dancing, don’t forget to join our Soul Food and Jazz tour to swing dance the night away to the sound of a live band in a Harlem Jazz Club and to enjoy the best Soul Food in town!




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