Margo Reed left a long, rich musical legacy

By Patricia Myers

Longtime Phoenix-area jazz and blues vocalist Margo E. Reed, 73, passed away in Phoenix on April 15, 2015, from complications of Alzheimer’s. A Celebration of Life will be from 4-8 pm Saturday, May 2, 2015, at the Rhythm Room, 1019 E. Indian School Road, admission donation at the door. Michael and Francine Reed Andy Gonzales and many others will perform; the opening set will be a jazz set.


Margo was the first member of the Reed family to come to Phoenix in 1973 with her children, Sheldon and Margo Sherri, the move west recommended by a doctor to ease her son’s asthma. She soon was joined by her mother, Girley Reed, and five of her seven siblings: Tony, Lavergne, Michael, Francine (now living in Atlanta, Ga.) and Bucko (Leonard Jr.); her sister Mellody later relocated to Arizona, now is living in Southhaven, Miss.


Margo’s first job, cleaning hotel rooms, led to her continued career in Arizona. A co-worker heard her singing on the job and suggested she sit in at the Century Sky Room. She did and was immediately hired to sing on weekends, but kept her daytime job to support her children. Then she was hired for one night in the Boojum Tree Lounge, performing with pianist Armand Boatman. That led to other local bookings and tours to Seattle, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe, San Diego, Detroit and Oregon.


Margo’s 60-year career began in Illinois where she and the family traveled on a Mennonite gospel circuit. Margo’s voice was honed for all styles of singing, and her personal favorite was Mahalia Jackson’s “Soon We’ll Be Done with the Troubles of the World.” Residents in and around Kankakee remember Margo leading family performances throughout the county that created memories of proms and post-prom parties. The siblings had grown up listening to their father’s touring gospel group, learning that music during rehearsals in their home.


Margo’s style was as memorable and unforgettable, her sound as unique as Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Dinah Washington. The joy and passion she infused into her music was exhilarating, a style that delighted longtime fans and fascinated new listeners. The energy and emotion of her vocal style chased away the blues or soothed like a mother’s lullaby. Her CD, “Margo: Live!” with the Armand Boatman Trio, recorded October 2000 in concert, earned these rave reviews: “Sassy . . . swanky . . . approaches perfection” and “Soul-stirring. . . a treat for your ears and your heart.”


Margo was named “Best Female Jazz Vocalist” by the listeners of KJZZ radio in 2004 and was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame that same year. She was voted “Best Female Jazz Vocalist” in 2000 by the readers of AZJazz Magazine, the editors noting, “Margo has hit her stride, performing with grace, style and a deliberateness that signals the best is yet to come.” She was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 by Jazz in Arizona, and she was inducted as part of the musical Reed family into the Arizona Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2011. She recorded four albums: “Margo” (1990, Myers Productions), “Margo Live!” (2000, Myers Productions), “The Many Facets of Margo Reed” (2010, Michael Reed Music) and “Some of My Favorites” (2012, Armand Boatman Music), and also was part of the family’s a cappella gospel album “Blood Harmony” (2005, Bob Corritore/Southwest Musical Arts Foundation).


For 40 years, Margo was a first-call performer in Phoenix for clubs, concerts, festivals, charity events and private parties, especially performing with gifted pianist-arranger Buddy Weed in her earliest years. Her club bookings included the Century Sky Room, Tommy’s Copa West, Boojum Tree Lounge of the Phoenix Doubletree Inn, Del Webb’s TowneHouse, Westward Ho Hotel, Page Four, Timothy’s Pub, Tito’s, JD’s Lounge, Remington’s, Mesa Hilton Hotel, Famous Door, Velvet Room, Z’Tejas, A League of Our Own, Kazimierz World Wine Bar and OC Seven. Margo also captivated patrons in Atlanta and Detroit, wowed crowds in San Diego and Denver, and thrilled listeners in Telluride, Colo.


Margo also was a featured entertainer at the Telluride Ski Village in Telluride, Colo., from 1990-93. She also performed in Telluride at Garano Peaks, Last Dollar Saloon, Opera House, New Sheridan Hotel, O’Banion’s, Moon Saloon and Telluride Ballroom at Mountain Village. Margo performed in Taos (NM) and for Telluride (Colo.) Jazz Festivals from 1984-1994.


Margo was the core of annual Reed family concerts at Phoenix Symphony Hall, Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center, Scottsdale Mall Doubletree Inn, El Pedregal and Desert Botanical Garden. Her last performance with the family was on her brother Michael’s birthday, Nov. 15, 2014, at the Soul Café in Scottsdale, singing with Francine, Michael and his daughter, Tabitha.


She is survived by her daughter Margo Sherri; sisters Lavergne, Mellody, Francine; brother Michael; many nieces and nephews; predeceased by mother Girley Reed, father Leonard Reed Sr., brothers Tony Reed and Bucko Reed, and son Sheldon Reed.

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