Marlena Shaw was born Marlina Burgess, September 22, 1944, in New Rochelle, New York. At the age of 10 Shaw made a modestly successful appearance at the Apollo theatre but her mother ruled against the little girl going on tour with her uncle, trumpeter Jimmy Burgess. She began working in the New Rochelle area, developing into a cocktail lounge-type jazz singer who occasionally ventured onto the soul music charts.
Her career moved into a higher gear in 1963, and was discovered by Chess Records in 1966 while singing on the Playboy lounge circuit. On Chess' Cadet subsidiary, under the aegis of producer Richard Evans, she performed vocal counterparts of jazz hits such as Joe Zawinul's "Mercy Mercy Mercy" and Ramsey Lewis' "Wade In The Water". Chess released two albums and a series of singles before Shaw left the company in 1968.
For the next five years she performed periodically with Count Basie, and after signing with Blue Note Records in 1972 built a solidly based jazz recording career. Her most popular album for the company was Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?, but her last Blue Note release in 1976, Just A Matter Of Time, saw a more disco-driven result that yielded a modest chart single, "It's Better Than Walkin' Out".
A move to Columbia Records in 1977 resulted in her biggest chart success with Sweet Beginnings and a hit single, "Go Away Little Boy", a remake of Steve Lawrence's "Go Away Little Girl". From an album for South Bay, Let Me In Your Life, she achieved her last chart single, "Never Give Up On You", but remained active in the 90s, signing with Concord Records. Since then, her jazz credentials continued to be enhanced and she appeared with leading contemporary jazz artists, in particular working with David Hazeltine and Chris Potter on Dangerous in 1996.
Proving popular with contemporary musicians, Shaw's voice has been sampled by several acts including Gang Starr ("Check The Technique"), St. Germain ("Rose Rouge") and Blue Boy ("Remember Me"), and she can also be heard on mix compilations by David Holmes. Throughout the late 90s and on into the new century, Shaw has been touring extensively in the US and abroad extending her audience for her distinctive brand of soulful jazz.