Detroit-born Freda Payne was a teenager when she sang for two nights in Pittsburgh with Duke Ellington. He offered her a contract, but her mother turned it down. Her mother had also said no to Berry Gordy, the Motown mogul, who had written Payne three songs.
Things worked out fine, though. Payne went on to a stellar career in pop music and jazz. She toured with Quincy Jones in the mid-1960s, and her "Band Of Gold" was a big hit single in the 1970s. She made appearances on Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin.
Whatever accolades came her way, though, the spirit of Ellington and old-time jazz and blues stayed with her. She starred in shows like "Sophisticated Ladies," "Blues in the Night," "Ain't Misbehavin' " and "Jelly's Last Jam." Payne also toured with the Duke Ellington Orchestra, singing the bittersweet songs that reflect the Duke's unique genius. "Satin Doll." "Prelude To a Kiss." "Solitude."
Payne sings Ellington this weekend with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, in the first of two weekends of concerts conducted by Music Director JoAnn Falletta and devoted to Ellington's music. (Next weekend's concerts feature pianist Orion Weiss, in some of the Duke's more "classical" music.)
This weekend's concerts, which will be recorded for release on Naxos, take place at 10:30 a.m. today and 8 p.m. Saturday in Kleinhans Music Hall. Admission is $25-$72. For info, call 885-5000.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman