Marlene’s career spanned a remarkable six decades. She made her final performances December 12 and 13 at Mezzrow, a Greenwich Village jazz club.
In a 1980 review in The New York Times, John S. Wilson suggested that Marlene VerPlanck “may be the most accomplished interpreter of popular material performing today.” Almost four decades later, in March 2017, after she appeared in London at Ronnie Scott’s club, a reviewer for Jazz Journal International called her “the finest canary in captivity.”
Marlene’s recording, “The Mood I’m In,” was ranked as one of the best releases of 2016 in the jazz magazine DownBeat. It was the latest of more than 20 CD recordings.
I was Marlene’s Webmaster for 17 years. Through all that time, she was a dear friend, both to me and to my husband, Rick. Marlene was a lovely woman with an extraordinary voice and exquisite musical taste. She will be missed by countless fans and friends around the world.
This tribute site is designed to give those whose lives she touched an opportunity to share memories, stories, and condolences, as well as published articles, photos, and videos, to help all of us keep our memories of Marlene alive.
If you would like to add a tribute to this site, please send it to email@example.com
– Anita Pollak
Marlene made us believe she was timeless and ageless. Her energy was contagious to all she touched. She had more energy than some half her age. She just never stopped doing what she loved to do. She touched so many lives and her friends spanned an endless array of all ages. Age didn’t matter she just seemed to connect to everyone – age was just a number to her and an unimportant statistic – it was never going to stop her doing for what she loved.
She will always have a special place in my heart since she was my best friend. Each memory of her is more special to all of us now that she is singing in heaven. However, I have a special memory of her and something I hold dear in my heart. Marlene and I lived in the same city in NJ and lived basically across the street from one and other. In 2010, I decided to enter the local world of politics and ran for Clifton City Council. From the moment I told her she was my biggest supporter and wanted to help in the way she knew best. She offered to do a jazz concert to kick off my campaign. Needless to say I immediately accepted this kind offer. She got the best musicians to accompany her and called lyricist Frank Grant to write a campaign song for me to the tune of “New York New York”. To this day I am still overwhelmed by this! What a concert it was – the likes of which Clifton never saw. It was a packed house with standing room only!
I could go on and on about her and the remarkable woman she was. I was in awe of what she accomplished and continually begged her to tell me stories about all her accomplishments – the commercials, who she sang with, the recordings. I treasure each story now more than ever.
The world lost a legend but I lost my best friend. Rest in peace my dear friend – sing your heart out in heaven with all the new arrangements Billy had waiting for you! I will love you forever. Mary Sadrakula
MEMORIES OF MARLENE
January 16, 2018. Losing a friend is always a painful experience. It was particularly painful yesterday when I learned that Marlene VerPlanck had left us the previous evening.
I knew that she was seriously ill, but had seen her only a week earlier, and she seemed determined to beat whatever it was that she was fighting. I say that because she was not forthcoming about her health issue, even to close friends. Right to the end, Marlene remained a strong and brave lady, determined to deal with the challenge on her own terms.
My first awareness of Marlene’s artistry was on American Popular Song, a radio show hosted by Alec Wilder. The series first aired in 1976. It was a show that introduced me not only to Marlene, but also to Barbara Lea and other marvelous singers.
Marlene was the guest on one of the first shows. I was immediately struck by her singing, especially the way she articulated the lyrics. It was a part of her artistry that once led me to write that she was “a lyricist’s best friend.”
A year or two later Marlene appeared at Michael’s Pub in New York City as part of a series highlighting many of the performers who appeared on the radio series. She was even more exciting in person than she had been on the radio.
We are so very sad that you have left us. Rod and I have been your friends since 1997 and you gave us so much joy every time you came to England and we were very much looking forward to seeing you again this year.
We used to enjoy a meal with you and Billy and this tradition continued after he passed. Our last meal together was just before you returned home last year and I remember emailing you to say that it had been the best one. Little did I know that it would be the last.
You invited us to stay with you in 2013 and we spent such a happy time with you – meeting your friends and family, going to clubs where we heard wonderful music including you singing.
You always sounded fabulous and we are so grateful that we attended one of your gigs, ordered a CD and kept in contact with you. Our growing friendship and love meant so much to us and we are going to miss you so very much. I just wish I could give you one last hug!
Thank you so much for the love and friendship that you and Billy gave us.
Much love, Shirley and Rod Budget
Marlene first played at Fleece Jazz in March 1999, with the Roy Babbington Trio. What a revelation! Her husband Billy was travelling with her, and she was using his arrangements. It turned out that the pianist was a very fine dep, seeing Billy’s complex charts for the first time. Scary, but well done.
She last played with us in March 2016. I was charged with writing the website blurb for the gig:
“…She may be the most accomplished interpreter of popular material
performing today…” – The New York Times
Read more here.
Fleece Jazz: http://www.fleecejazz.org.uk/ Roberta Sheps and David Lyons, Fleece Jazz
There’s a new angel in heaven today…
I wish I could claim credit for those words, which jumped out at me from a post on my Facebook feed this afternoon. But I trust vocalist Ben Cassara won’t mind my using them.
He was referring to the passing of one of the true torch bearers of the American Popular Song Book, Marlene VerPlanck.
Not only have I been an avid fan, but I treasure the memories of fascinating conversations during several dinners with Marlene and her dear husband of five decades, composer and trombonist J. Billy VerPlanck, as well as recording several on-location interviews over the years.
I will always remember my first meeting with Marlene in New York. It was either 1980 or ’81, at a time when she was actively engaged as a studio singer in addition to her other life performing the crème of American Popular Song standards.
Despite being diagnosed in November with pancreatic cancer, Marlene continued to sing in New York and New Jersey, and planned to perform into the spring, according to her site. Marlene preferred to keep the bad news to herself, sparing herself the unwanted pity of friends and avoiding becoming the cause of their lowered spirits. Marlene wasn’t big on the blues.
Relentlessly upbeat and determined, Marlene in recent years was tireless. She sustained injuries following accidental falls but made her gigs anyway, despite the pain and need for care. The hospital or doctors were consulted after the music, which was always her priority. Even in December, when the trip to local venues to perform resulted in complete exhaustion given her condition, she would sing as many songs as she could in perfect form, never once letting on that she was gravely ill. Her sparkling eyes never betrayed her fear or the illness that had taken hold of her. She always delivered a good time at clubs and wasn’t going to let her illness get in her way.
We discovered that she and Billy lived in my wife’s home town in Clifton, NJ. and Billy was a distant relative of my wife.
Over several years we saw her perform in NJ and her returns to Worcester.
She was always so nice and kept me abreast with her latest cd she would send with a kind note.
The last time we met she was singing with the Concord symphony orchestra. She was staying with a friend in the next town, so Saturday I met her and drove to WICN to visit Joe Slezik, who she knew from many years ago. We then had lunch and had an enjoyable afternoon.
She will truly be missed and I plan a musical tribute to her next Wednesday afternoon in addition to playing her music on air for many years to come. Her work and life will not be forgotten. Al Dean 90.5 WICN, Worcester, MA
Marlene and Billy VerPlanck: Remembrances of a Lasting Friendship
It feels like only yesterday, but it was an evening in 1987 when we stepped into Cates, a popular jazz club in Alexandria, Virginia. My wife Janet and I were eager to hear a much-talked-about singer from New Jersey named Marlene VerPlanck, and her accompanist, a brilliant pianist from North Carolina named Loonis McGlohon.
We knew the two were associated with an idol of mine, the legendary songwriter Alec Wilder, author of American Popular Song, the pop-music “bible.” Loonis had led the trio on Wilder’s popular PBS radio series of the same name, and Marlene had guested twice on the show. But we had never heard either in person.
They didn’t disappoint. Their performance that evening was electric. Marlene’s voice and phrasing and Loonis’s keyboard artistry thrilled us. To top it off, both were extraordinarily warm and charming people. Like the rest of the audience, we were knocked out.
When the first set ended, Loonis — perhaps sensing our enthusiasm — surprised us by walking to our table, pulling over an unused chair, and unnecessarily introducing himself.
Before the night had ended, we met Loonis’s wife Nan and Marlene and her songwriter husband Billy VerPlanck. We didn’t realize it then, but it was the start of friendships that would endure for decades.
As years went by, our meetings with Loonis were scattered, always when he performed in Washington. Our relationship with Marlene and Billy meanwhile evolved into a close friendship. We became frequent guests at their beautiful home in Clifton, and they stayed at our home in Alexandria when Marlene had a gig at the Kennedy Center or other Washington venues. We also hung out with Marlene and Billy in London when she sang at a club there. Twice we traveled to Paris to join them at recording and singing dates.
One year, on the spur of the moment, Marlene and Billy announced they wanted to accompany us on our planned sightseeing visit to Montreal. “We’ve always wanted to see Montreal,” Marlene explained. We hit the city’s highlights together. Spontaneous as ever, she charmed the chef at a top-rated French restaurant into preparing a special, off-the-menu dinner for the four of us. It was typical Marlene. The chef was flattered, and the meal was unforgettable.
In 2008, Marlene surprised me when she asked me to write the liner notes for a forthcoming CD titled “Once There Was a Moon.” I was delighted. She had given me a chance to express in writing what I never said in person. I wrote:
“I can suggest that ‘Once There Was a Moon’ is Marlene VerPlanck’s best CD yet, and I’d mean it. But I remember feeling the same way about her last two or three (or more) CDs. So I’ll just say, ‘Once Upon a Moon’ is only sensational. It represents singer Marlene VerPlanck and arranger Billy VerPlanck at the top of their game, and that’s plenty good enough for me.”
Sure, I was biased about them then and I’m biased now. But to me, Marlene and Billy VerPlanck were national treasures. Sadly, they’re no longer with us. Thankfully, we’ll always have their recordings to remember them by. Jerry Kline
We were “introduced” to the music of Marlene by Janet and Jerry Kline when holidaying in Lucca, Italy. We have, since then, had the good fortune to meet her and listen to her great talent when she visited the U K on a couple of her European tours. Sadly we will see her no more but have CD copies of her wonderful music Thanks JandJ. Rest in Peace Marlene.Pam and Brian Pearce
My family has so many wonderful memories of Marlene! Our father, Loonis McGlohon, and Marlene & Billy enjoyed a long friendship and musical partnership that spanned 25 years. Their collaborations resulted in the wonderful recordings that we still enjoy from the American Popular Song series as well as numerous projects that exceeded expectations like NC is My Home with Charles Kuralt. My father delighted in Marlene’s voice and thought her one of the finest interpreters of the American Songbook.
Last evening, my husband, Skipper and I uncorked a Margaux and put on my favorite VerPlanck CD, “You’d Better Love Me”. This was the first recorded collaboration with my father. If you have never heard this recording of Hugh Martin’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, it is singular. My father accompanies Marlene on this CD and it is magic. Also included on this album is “Songbird”, a piece my father wrote for Teddi King after her untimely death. But to be honest, I have always felt this song was written for Marlene. She owns this beautiful melody. And this recording proves it. I have heard her sing it countless times but this may well be my favorite!
So as the evening light faded , Skipper and I lifted our glass in memory and love to Marlene as she sang the last lines:
“Songbird, thank you for your lovely song and if you ever have to fly away.
I know that I’ll remember every song you sang, as well as I remember them today.”
Our deep sympathy. Fan and Skipper Smith
Another important tree of my life has fallen. A dear friend over four decades, Marlene VerPlanck, died late yesterday.
An extraordinary singer with devoted fans worldwide, Marlene was first heard, by many of us, when she sang the words “Mm-m-m Good, Mm-m-m Good. That’s what Campbell’s Soups are…mm-m-m good.” With her clear voice, excellent sight-reading ability, and perfect pitch (as I told her on many occasions, you could tune the band to her), she was one of the most successful of the jingle singers of the 1960s and ’70s.
Working in tandem with her devoted late husband Billy (as he told me during one of her performances with tears of affection in his eyes, “She’s my favorite act, man”), Marlene would become well known in jazz vocal circles, not only in the clubs in and around New York, but across the Atlantic and across the USA, performing as recently as mid-December at Mezzrow.
She recorded prolifically (including four of my songs…thank you again, Marlenie!), and her most recent CD, The Mood I’m In, was ranked as one of the best releases of 2016 in DownBeat. Not too bad for a performer who was born in 1933 (and got her start singing for Charlie Spivak and Tommy Dorsey in the middle 1950s). And I know she wouldn’t want me to post this without mentioning the quote on the home page of her website. Said the reviewer in The New York Times: “She may be the most accomplished interpreter of popular material performing today.”
Love, The Kid…Ray Hoffman
I started working with Marlene VerPlanck in July of 2000. In late September of 2001 she had a gig at the Princeton Jazz Festival. Since it was a couple of weeks after 9/11, she programmed an arrangement of songs in tribute to New York that led off with a few lines of “I Love New York.”
I was a kid growing up in upstate New York when that song was introduced in an ad campaign and though all jingles are designed to be memorable, the perfect ones stick in your consciousness forever; for me, this was one them.
I mentioned to Marlene that I had always loved the jingle and she informed me that she was one of the singers on the original session.
Marlene was a great singer with impeccable intonation and exacting taste in songs, and a really good friend as well. She was also a direct connection to a lot of musical history and in the case of “I Love New York”, some music that resonated with me at an early age.
She passed away yesterday and I was very fortunate to have known and worked with her.Tedd Firth
Re your message that the Editor included in the February In Tune I have just seen that Marlene died on January 14th and am so sad as I had counted her as a a fine friend since my wife and I met her in 1988 at a 9th Avenue apartment she used sometimes in the city. I have seen her at various locations in NJ such as Shanghai jazz and Manhattan and each year over here since then.Our son Ian Prior has worked in Manhattan for many years and we have been to Clifton for dinner. One of the highlights was when she invited me to a recording session with the BBC Radio Big Band in London on songs By Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. I and two friends present a voluntary radio programme on Tuesdays in Sheffield and have often included recordings by Marlene so next week I’ll be paying a tribute to her. I was delighted when she asked if I would review her CD The Mood I’m In. What is there to add to the wealth of terrific reviews over the years? I shall miss her immensely and want to send condolences to her relatives.
Kind regards, Keith Prior
It seems to me that one of the distinguishing characteristics of a great musician, be it a singer or an instrumentalist, is an identifiable sound, something which allows for immediate recognition. Marlene VerPlanck was certainly in this group. Anyone familiar with Marlene’s voice could identify her after hearing one, maybe two notes at most. Not only that, her distinctive sound was a reflection of her own personality: warm, sunny and upbeat. If she were a season, she’d surely be spring! After her beloved Billy died, it would have been understandable if her moods darkened from time to time. But no, she never cloaked herself in sadness or unhappiness. She carried on her career with the same enthusiasm, always looking forward to the next gig (and there always was something on the horizon.) Her passion was singing and in this sense, she never really “got off the road,” working regularly here and in Europe every spring. She was a champion of great songs and became known as one of our finest interpreters in the field of popular, jazz oriented singing.
Personally, she was a great and caring friend. And as a lyric songwriter, I was particularly fortunate in having her record a few of my songs on her Audiophile albums. Many singers seem reluctant to search and perform new material, the idea I suppose, being that audiences prefer hearing songs with which they are familiar. Marlene was not of that cloth. She encouraged writers to submit new material and I knew that any new song I showed her would get a respectful hearing. Every few months she would go over new material with her pianists, the most recent being Tedd Firth. Tedd told me that as recently as last month, he had gotten together with Marlene to go over songs, old and new, that she might incorporate into an upcoming project. I found it fascinating to learn that even after all these years of professional singing, Marlene made the effort to drive into Manhattan once a week for a vocal lesson with a private teacher until the teacher’s passing in 2015. Now that’s dedication!
While her passing is leaving a great void in the hearts of everyone who loved her and her singing, her legacy as one of the outstanding singers of the Great American Songbook is secure.Roger Schore
We are shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of Marlene. Marlene was a dear friend of ours. We were fortunate to know her for many years. She brought so much joy to us because she, herself, was filled with joy and enthusiasm. It reflected in her music, her lovely voice and interpretation of her songs. She presented each song with a freshness and took us on a composer’s musical journey. Whether it was at the Blue Note, Kitano, St. Peter’s Church, and other venues, it was always an anticipated occasion. How could we forget New Year’s Eve at her home in N. J. celebrating with Marlene and Billy, and her family and friends. And that special song “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” We will always remember Marlene’s hugs and kisses and warm, generous smiles to accompany her memorable performances. We miss you very much, Marlene. What a special friend we had in you – – always to be treasured. Our condolences to Marlene’s family. Let us continue to keep her music alive.Bill Enrich and Linda Solomon
I was very saddened to hear the news of Marlenes passing. I first saw her at my local jazz club many years ago and always tried to see her whenever she toured Britain. I asked her one time if she would include a couple of my favourite numbers in her programme but unfortunately I left it too late as she had already planned her evenings performance but told me to E.Mail her with my request on her next visit which I did and as promised she sang the number and dedicated it to me which I thought was a lovely gesture. A lovely kind and gentle person who will never be forgotten by me.Joe Chalk
Although I didn’t know Marlene (or her late husband Billy) very long compared to many here, I considered her a very dear friend. I was a young drummer in NYC in 1990 when I happened to play a gig with her in New Haven, CT. It was the beginning of our friendship and musical journeys. We only performed a few times, as I moved to Denver in 1992, but I will never forget her, her impeccable song interpretations and her charm. They just don’t make them like Marlene VerPlanck anymore.
God Bless you, Marlene.Todd Reid
I work at WAVO 1150-AM, an Adult Standards station in Charlotte, NC. Our station was owned by George H. Buck,Jr until his death in 2015. He also owned Jazzology Records and produced a weekly radio program called “Jazzology”. I was introduced to Marlene’s music through our airings of “Jazzology”. Marlene also worked with Loonis McGlohan who was from Charlotte. It was an honor to be Marlene’s Facebook friend. Her music will live on as WAVO continues to air “Jazzology” on Sunday afternoons.Brant Hart, GHB Broadcasting
We are very sad to hear of Marlene’s passing. Marlene first appeared at The Concorde Club in 1993 with her husband Billy and went on to play many sessions for us over the years. In the recent years when Marlene toured on her own we were always delighted to present her when she made her annual Spring visit to the UK. She was a beautiful singer and our members always delighted in her shows and choice of song. She will be a loss to the music world.Cole Mathieson and friends at The Concorde, Eastleigh, UK
The Rhondda Jazz Club meets this evening when I know Madge will announce to all present the news of Marlene’s death. We are all be saddened by the news and the thought that she will no longer be able to entertain us in her inimitable style.
We were all looking forward to her next visit, and she will be missed.
Please extend our sympathies to her family and friends.
Yours sincerely,Bill and Enid, Elgar and Nanette, Lynfa, and Janice
A devoted vocalist and companion to her late husband – she was/is an inspiration to young talent.
Kindest Regards, Olga Kuharets
Condolences from a great fan, Jan Drummond-Dunn
I last saw her exactly five weeks before her sudden, unexpected passing – one final time at the library. There, with a slightly subpar start, she sang increasingly well and pleased the audience for almost two hours. She hit every high note. During the break, while she seemed slightly frail, I could not have imagined just how ill she was. She asked me how I was and I asked her the same; she just smiled and said nothing. She commented that her performance had been weak or something like that. She then proceeded to perform a flawless second half, with all of her trademark warmth and optimistic delivery intact. I miss her. Ken Saari
Condolences from Bryan and Mary James, Rhondda Jazz members. Bryan and Mary James
As an artist she was exemplary and I’m sure that everyone who followed her career, both her recordings and especially live performances, would agree with me when I say that the consistency of her excellence of performance was something staggering. A true giant. Rest In Peace Marlene. Bernard McAlinden Manchester UK
I was totally shocked to hear of Marlene’s death this morning from a friend. It was coming up to March again and our yearly treat of seeing Marlene at a venue in London.
What an awful loss not only to the musical world but all her devoted fans. My sincere condolences to all her family and friends my musical world has lost another wonderful artist. Marcia Roxburgh
After the fall of the big bands, Marlene went on to be a 1’st call NYC jingle singer and of course the world class American songbook stylist that we know and loved so well. She was always ‘packing the house’ wherever she performed whether it be Ronnie Scott’s in London, Kitano or Mezzrow in NYC, NJPAC, or even the Mahwah Public Library. And why not, she had impeccable taste, perfect pitch, great arrangements, and a hard swinging feel. After Billy’s passing, I attended many of her gigs and she used to tease me with the words, “I think you’re becoming a groupie”
Marlene influenced and touched so many people through her music and friendship. She inspired so many including her niece Kristin Pampinella Deppe who took up singing and was a kid jingle singer. I met Kristin also as child jingle singer and we went on to become best friends. Kristin and I used to shop at Tower records purchasing Marlene’s albums and then sit around for hours listening to her sides marveling at Marlene’s voice and interpretations.
Although I’m so sad that I will never see Marlene perform again, I know she is on a bandstand somewhere with Billy and the ‘hippest cats’, packing the house. Love you, Marlene. Steve Brauner
Her many UK fans will miss her. Malcolm Frazer
About 10 years ago, I was talking to someone in the lobby of my church about an Ella Fitzgerald cd I had recently listened to. I was mentioning how good the music was. Bill, one of the ushers who I was friends with, came up to me and said “You know, Donna’s cousin is a well-known jazz singer”. (Donna is Bill’s wife). So I said (with doubt in my voice) “Really, who?” He answered “Marlene VerPlanck”. Needless to say, my jaw dropped to the floor, because I had wanted to see Marlene in concert for quite a while. Shortly after that, I had the opportunity to see Marlene for the first time, and got the chance to see her several more times over the years. I had the chance to meet her and talk to her on occasion. She was always warm and gracious, a true star, but in a humble way. Her intimately beautiful vocals were a joy to listen to, as she wrapped her voice around every song she sang. When her husband Billy passed away, Marlene made sure that I got one of the gift bags that were handed out at his memorial service. While her “voice” here on earth may be silenced, her legacy will live on in her family, and in her recordings. And while we mourn, we can also rejoice because of that fact. I am honored and blessed to have had the chance to see and hear Marlene, and will cherish those memories of her always. Bruce Balbach, Parsippany NJ
With love, Corinna Manetto
Again, my deepest condolences, Alex Leonard