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Remembering The Life And Career Of LA Jazz Great Ernie Andrews

A black-and-white photo of Ernie Andrews in performance shows him standing at a microphone with his left arm raised. He is wearing a white jacket, shirt and hat, with a black bow tie.
Ernie Andrews performs, circa 1945.
(Courtesy Shades of L.A. Photo Collection)
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Ernie Andrews, the great L.A. jazz and blues icon, died earlier this week at the age of 94.

Singer-songwriter Dee Dee MacNeil announced — on Facebook — that Andrews died on Monday night. She said an "unforgettable jazz voice has been silenced."

Listen to the full 2008 interview with Ernie Andrews

Andrews was a mainstay at clubs along Central Ave. in its heyday as the center of L.A.'s jazz scene and was discovered there at the legendary Lincoln Theatre.
In a 2008 interview with our newsroom's public affairs shows, AirTalk, Andrews spoke about his early days as a musician. He'd been "raised in the church" in Philadelphia as a young child before moving to Louisiana at about the age of 10 to live with his maternal grandmother.

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His next stop was L.A. where he attended Jefferson High and got a job as an usher at the Lincoln Theatre. On Wednesdays, the theater had an amateur show.

"I would go on on Wednesdays and I would sing my favorite blues," he said. "At that time it was 'T-Bone Blues' — [by] T-Bone Walker — and I'd sing that and I had the privilege of winning during those years."

From those performances, Andrews became a professional musician and recording artist. He was 17.

"Everything that I sing is about life, you know, it's about what I've lived in my life and that makes it honest," he said, reflecting on a career that at that point had already spanned six decades. "I just don't sing songs to be singing songs, I sing songs that I've lived and it makes it honest."

Jan Perry, a former L.A. City council member, said Andrews was an important figure in the annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

The festival “enabled us to be able to celebrate not only the history of the community in Central Avenue," she said, "but an indigenous form of American music. And Ernie was a huge part of that. So he won't be forgotten.”

Perry said audiences connected with Andrews because he sang about things that are common to everyone.

“Relationship issues and singing the blues and being sad, being happy. And transcending, humble beginnings," she said.

She also recalls the thrill of meeting him years ago at the festival.

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"I was awestruck," Perry said. "And then he said, Hello sweetheart, or something like that. And I just melted because he had that beautiful, velvety voice."

Then, Perry said, Andrews got on stage and performed a set "like no other."

"He had everybody up on their feet, laughing and dancing. You know, and he was singing, singing about relationships and things like that. And it was just, it was just incredible," she said. "He was just so charismatic and he was so charming, and he has such a beautiful voice."

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