Commonly known as Al Jarreau, Alwin Lopez Jarreau was an African-American jazz singer and musician who received a total of seven Grammy Awards. Jarreau is best known for participating in the charity song “We Are the World” and his 1981 album Breakin’ Away.
Born March 12, 1940, to Pearl and Emile Jarreau in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Al was the fifth of six children. Jarreau sang with his family at church and performed alongside his mother at Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings. He attended Ripon College where he sang in a group called “The Indigos” and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in psychology in 1962. He obtained a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa in 1964 and became a counselor in San Francisco, California. Moonlighting with a jazz trio headed by George Duke, by the late 1960s, Jarreau decided to make singing a career after experiencing success at a Chicago, Illinois nightclub called Gatsby’s.
Jarreau married twice: the first to Phyllis Hall, whom he divorced in 1968, and the second to model Susan Elaine Player, whom he was married to until his passing. They had one son, Ryan Jarreau.
In 1968 Jarreau made jazz singing his primary occupation. One year later, he joined Julio Martinez to perform at major clubs such as the Troubadour in Los Angeles. He also received television exposure on the Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore variety shows. During this period, he began writing his own lyrics. He also became involved with Christian Scientology but later dissociated from the faith. Throughout his career, Jarreau’s Christian spirituality influenced his work.
In 1975 Jarreau was signed by Warner Bros. Records, following a performance with pianist Tom Canning. He also sang on the 13th episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL). He released his critically-acclaimed album We Got By which projected him into international fame. He won an Echo (the German version of the Grammies) for this album and a second one for his second album Glow. In 1978 he won his first