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Heart in Her Voice: A Farewell to Holli Ross, From Her Friend Michael Bourne

Courtesy of the artist

Holli Ross was one of my favorite singers and dearest friends. She passed early Saturday morning after several years fighting cancer.  

I first enjoyed her singing when she came on Singers Unlimited more than 30 years ago with the group Mad Romance. Holli was lovely, lively, and we were friends from then on.

She was a teacher and a vocal therapist. When I was working too much on the radio, full-time for WBGO and for Sirius, I started suffering from what I called Chops Fatigue. I called Holli for advice and everything she said was helpful. She was also insightful about my foolishness in life. That’s what friends are for.  

Holli always sang with her heart in her voice. She was a devout jazz singer, especially about vocalese. She wrote lyrics, including words to a melody that Sarah Vaughan composed, “I Have Waited So Long,” recorded by Janis Siegel with the Count Basie Orchestra.

Holli was especially active singing in groups, including the trio String of Pearls and in recent years with The Royal Bopsters. She was especially delighted when the Bopsters were singing with some of her vocal idols: Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Mark Murphy, Bob Dorough and Sheila Jordan. 

Party of Four, the group’s just-finished new album, features songs with Sheila and Bob, a take on Chet Baker’s version of “But Not for Me,” and Holly’s English lyrics to Tito Puente’s “Cuando Te Vea (When I See You).” 

Michael Bourne, who died on August 21, 2022, was a presence on the air at WBGO between the end of 1984 and the start of 2022 when he retired from full-time hosting duty. He is the host of the Singers Unlimited Podcast by WBGO Studios. Previously, he hosted the popular Singers Unlimited (1985-2022). He also hosted the equally popular Blues Break for several years. Michael is a senior contributor to Down Beat, with the magazine since 1969. Doctor Bourne earned a PhD in Theatre from Indiana University -- which comes in handy when he's a theatre critic for the WBGO Journal.