Othella Dallas, who brought the blues to Basel, dies aged 95

Othella Dallas married a Swiss engineer, who urged her to sing Keystone

The Grand Old Lady of Jazz, as the singer and dancer Othella Dallas called herself, has died in Basel at the age of 95.

This content was published on December 1, 2020 - 12:02

The Swiss-based performer had been on first-name terms with famous musicians such as Edith Piaf, Sidney Bechet, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones.

As an African-American born in Memphis in 1925, Othella Strozier had few prospects. Dancing was a way out of poverty for her, she told Swiss public radio, SRF. “I started dancing because I was hungry. I was born between two wars in an economic depression. The only thing we could do was learn to play the piano, sing and dance.”

Dallas performing in Basel in 2006 Keystone

At 19, she was discovered by choreographer Katherine Dunham, a pioneer of black dance. The Dunham Company was the first dance group in which black and white people performed together.

Move to Switzerland

Othella Dallas, as she became, went on to perform on Broadway in the revue Bal Nègre in 1946 and then toured South America and Europe. On that tour she left the company to marry a Swiss engineer, later her manager, who urged her to start singing. They moved to Switzerland in 1960.

She opened the Othella Strozier School of Dance in Zurich and trained opera singers, cabaret performers and dancers wanting to improve their technique. Her pupils included Margrit Läubli, Daniel Spoerri, Ruedi Walter and Margrit Rainer.

Dallas eventually moved to Basel, where she opened a dance school in 1975 and was still teaching three times a week at 90. She remained a well-known figure in the Swiss music scene and last year received the Swiss Jazz Award.

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