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Putting on the Ritz

“I was born to do this,” says Loretta Holloway. The pint-sized diva, current guest singer at the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s second floor bar, strongly believes she was destined to entertain. Although the South Carolina native did not discover jazz until college, due to what seems to be a series of coincidences throughout her career, Holloway has had the opportunity to share her craft around the world. “I don’t believe in chance,” she contends. “But I do believe in divine design.”

Holloway’s musical adventure began at college while majoring in English with the eventual goal of teaching. She entered a school talent show unaware that a man named Skipp Pearson, one of South Carolina’s jazz legends, was in the crowd. After the show he convinced her to join his band and thus began her education in jazz. With a sharp ear for a lyric and a surprisingly powerful voice for her petite frame, Holloway quickly established herself as the state’s ‘First Lady of Song’.

A few years later she was in Chicago pursuing an album deal. After it fell through she decided to explore the town ending up on its storied Rush Street. “I heard music coming from down an alley,” she recollects. “I walked into a small club to see a trio playing the most amazing music I’ve ever heard. I asked to sing a song or two with them and ended up performing all night.” By happenstance, the owner was in attendance and offered her a job on the spot. Within a short time, critics had labelled her ‘the best jazz singer in the Windy City’.

In the late 1970s, Holloway was on her way to Los Angeles to record the soundtrack for the blaxploitation movie Blackjack. This gave her the opportunity to travel to Las Vegas and she fell in love with the gambling mecca immediately. She landed a spot on a talent show at the Sahara, opening for the likes of Bill Cosby, Jay Leno, Merv Griffen, Whoopi Goldberg and Don Rickles. It also gave her the opportunity to rub elbows with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., as Vegas experienced a last hurrah from the entertainers who originally put it on the map.

Loretta spent the next few decades performing in the showrooms of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Several twists of fate lead to tours in London, Southeast Asia, Japan, Chile, the Soviet Union and Australia – a Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II during the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. After three record deals fell apart, she also finally self-released her first album Loretta Holloway... Quietly. “Once before I died I wanted to see my face on an album cover, even if I had to release it myself,” she says.

Along with pianist Bobby West, bassist Sebastian Meyer and drummer Brian Duke, Holloway brings a sense of class and sophistication to the Ritz. Using lyrics as her dialogue, she engages easily with her audience, often repeat customers back to hear her rotating selection of material. “I love to engage with my audience. People naturally gravitate toward me and what I do.” She adds, “Every stage is important and I give my all every time. There is no audience too small. It’s not about who doesn’t show up, it’s the ones who do that are important.”

With a stage presence that is two parts Barbara Streisand and one part Nancy Wilson, Holloway’s enthusiasm and versatile voice are contagious. It is obviously apparent the foursome truly loves to perform, bringing a taste of old Vegas’ bygone era to Shanghai. They play six nights a week, Monday to Saturday, from 9.30pm until 12.30am until 3 January, 2011.

Ritz-Carlton Bar. 2F Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu. Tel: 6279 8888 x 5777. Web: 


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