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Kansas City jazz legend, 'song stylist' Ida McBeth has died

Posted at 5:08 PM, Mar 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-01 19:02:35-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Noted Kansas City jazz icon Ida McBeth has died.

Her website confirmed that McBeth has passed away Wednesday "after an extended illness."

"We will be releasing details regarding any services as they become available," a message that greets visitors to said.

Fans and well-wishers are asked to leave messages on McBeth's Facebook page.

McBeth, 70, a self-proclaimed “song stylist,” was best known for her soulful jazz voice, but her repertoire also included blues, R&B, gospel, funk, show tunes and pop ballads.

"She put her soul into her singing," said musician Charles Williams, who played with McBeth for several decades. "She was one of Kansas City's best blues singer. We lost a great icon."

Her range was impressive, but she was a wonderful person off the stage as well.

“Ida was a very fun person to be around,” William said. “When we did things together, she just made the job so much fun. She loved to sing. She loved to perform.”

Williams said McBeth loved to sing and perform, relishing the chance to make a crowd happy.

"It was mesmerizing,” Williams said. “... I would watch her expressions. She would throw her head back. She had this thing where she would cock her head back and shake her head.”

McBeth also famously sometimes cooked for the musicians she worked with before rehearsals.

“Playing with her was a lot of fun,” Williams said. “... A lot of times, we didn’t get a chance to rehearse as a band together, so we just did things right off (the cuff).”

The American Jazz Museum in the 18th & Vine Jazz District in Kansas City, Missouri, opened a gallery space that honors McBeth in 2020. Williams said he'll fondly remember the birthday bashes that used to take place at the Blue Room around Thanksgiving every year.

“She was a Kansas City musical force and light, unmatched in melody and soul,” the museum said via Facebook after her passing. “May the warmth of her smile and tone carry us through. We love you Ida, your family at the American Jazz Museum.”

McBeth was born in Kansas City, Kansas, and honed her musical gift beginning at age 5 singing at church.

“I always sounded like a grown woman, even when I was a little girl,” McBeth, who started her professional career at age 16, told NPR in 2016.

She performed the national anthem at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, where she relocated after high school to pursue his singing career.

McBeth later returned to Kansas City, which she referred to as her “home base.”

“She was a very big deal,” Williams said. “I used to call her the Koko Taylor of Kansas City, which Koko Taylor was a very big blues singer. Just from seeing the things on my Facebook post this morning, hundreds of people really were saddened to know about her (death). If she was at the Blue Room or wherever she was, she packed it out all the time. She always would pack out the crowd, because she was that well known in Kansas City.”

McBeth was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award along with the McFadden Brothers by the American Jazz Museum in 2016.

"I'm sad, but I'm happy that she was able to share her gift here in this city and that the city received her very well," Williams said.

The Kansas City Latin Jazz Orchestra was among those offering condolences for McBeth, “a KC jazz and blues legend.”

“People know Kansas City for its jazz, but I think the history needs to be kept alive,” McBeth told The Pitch in a 2014 interview. “I hope that, 50 years from today, somebody will be playing my albums or some new singer will be out there singing my stuff. I don’t want to go die and be forgotten. And that’s why I plan on keeping it alive.”

McBeth’s death comes on the heels of the deaths of Ronnie McFadden — half of the renowned McFadden Brothers, a Kansas City-based jazz and tap duo — on Feb. 27 and Geneva Price, one of the founding members of the Wild Women of Kansas City, on Feb. 7.