Mary Stallings’ family gathered for dinner every Sunday in San Francisco.
During one of their routine meetings, Stallings’ aunt convinced her mother to hear Stallings sing in the living room. Stallings had been playing gospel in church since the age of 7, but fell in love with jazz after seeing her uncle Orlando Stallings playing saxophone in a big band.
This Sunday afternoon, when Stallings was 14, she showed her mother her love of jazz by performing “Can’t Help Lovin ‘Dat Man (of Mine)”.
The performance helped Stallings convince his mother to let her start performing professionally before she finished high school, which kicked off her journey to perform with renowned artists like the Count Basie Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine. .
Stallings will perform on Sunday with the Mike LeDonne Trio at the Ware Center, presented by the Central PA Friends of Jazz.
The 78-year-old singer says she has always had an affinity for romantic songs. Before even performing for her mom in their living room, she sang songs like “Stormy Weather” to her junior high school classmates.
“I had these luscious love songs, and people always think I sing for someone, but I’ve been doing this since I was a kid,” Stallings says. “I just have love in my heart.”
Stallings’ appreciation for these romantic messages is clear to listeners. Its enunciation is clear and its performance is significant, each word having its moment to shine. The love that Stallings sings about isn’t just about romance.
“I think it comes from having a love for my family,” Stallings says. “You can have a love for life, a love for other people in the situation where you just feel that love, that glow inside of you.”
Stallings made his San Francisco-area nightclub debut with R&B pioneer Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five. She collaborated with vibraphonist Cal Tjader in 1961 on the album “Cal Tjader Plays, Mary Stallings Sings” and performed with Dizzy Gillespie at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1965.
In 1969, her friend and jazz trombonist Grover Mitchell recommended her to Count Basie, who needed a singer for his orchestra. After meeting Basie, Stallings got a call from the manager offering a return ticket to Chicago, where the band’s next gig was being held.
“I said you don’t have to give me a return ticket,” Stallings said. ” I’m going to get there. He’s going to dig me.
She performed with the Count Basie Orchestra until 1972. After her stint with Basie, Stallings took a hiatus from raising her only child, R&B singer Adriana Evans. Stallings returned to the stage when she released the album “Fine and Mellow” in 1990.
During his Lancaster appearance, Stallings will perform works by Dizzy Gillespie, Cole Porter, Billy Strayhorn and others.
Even after all these years, the tour is not a job for her, it is a source of joy.
“I’m at this place in my life, and I’m still thriving and loving life and doing what I have to do,” Stallings says. “I was given that little bit of talent to bring some light, I’m thinking of the world, maybe.”
For Stallings, it all comes down to singing with love. She thinks this is especially necessary in modern times.
“It seems there isn’t a lot of compassion in the world now. … I try to keep a part of me that always thinks on the more positive side of things, with such a dark time that we’re living (in), ”Stallings says. “It’s important to hang on to that. I think … singing me (with) a little love can make some people remember what we’re here for and what this life should be like.