Etta Jones, 72, a jazz singer whose sinuous, after-midnight style could be heard on about 25 albums and at countless club dates, and who was best known for her 1960 recording of "Don't Go to Strangers," died of complications from cancer Oct. 16 at her home in Mount Vernon, N.Y. She also had a residence in Washington.
"Don't Go to Strangers" earned more than $1 million for the Prestige label. Since then, Ms. Jones became a respected interpreter of standards like "Stormy Weather," "Say It Isn't So," "Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good to You" and "But Not For Me."
Fond of improvising, she told the audience during a 1998 Kennedy Center concert with pianist Billy Taylor and his trio: "I never sing [a song] the same way again. I can't even sing along to my own records."
Ms. Jones received Grammy Award nominations for "Save Your Love For Me" (Muse, 1981) and "My Buddy: The Songs of Buddy Johnson" (HighNote Records, 1998).
She died on the day her most recent album was released, "Etta Jones Sings Lady Day" (HighNote), a tribute to Billie Holiday.
Of all those with whom she performed, including saxophonist Illinois Jacquet at Carnegie Hall, her most recognizable partner was tenor saxophonist Houston Person.
They were first booked together in 1968 at Jimmy McPhail's Gold Room in the District, and until their final date together three weeks ago, their interaction was often likened to the fruitful pairing of Holiday and saxophonist Lester Young in the 1930s.
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reviewer called their collaboration "one of those rare musical matches in which each artist complements the other -- without any battles for the spotlight."
"We didn't have any egos or anything," Person said in an interview yesterday.
Despite her long career, Ms. Jones never achieved household name recognition and was considered a hidden treasure to fans such as Taylor.
"All I want to do is work, make a decent salary and have friends," she once told an interviewer. "What's so good about this singing business is that I have friends all over the world. And without singing, I wouldn't have that."
Ms. Jones, a native of Aiken, S.C., grew up in New York, where her parents encouraged her singing. At 15, she lost a talent contest, but pianist-bandleader Buddy Johnson hired her anyway. In 1944, she made her first recording, for composer-critic Leonard Feather.
Through the 1940s, she recorded with clarinetist Barney Bigard, guitarist Kenny Burrell and vibraphonist Milt Jackson, among others. She became a vocalist for three years with legendary pianist Earl "Fatha" Hines.
Beginning in 1952, she tried to carve a solo career but had to work as an elevator operator, a seamstress and an album stuffer to make ends meet. Then came "Don't Go to Strangers."
She worked for the Prestige label during the next five years and then toured Japan with drummer-bandleader Art Blakey in 1970. She made many recordings for the Muse label from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s, when she became affiliated with its successor firm, HighNote.
During the past decade, she performed with pianist Benny Green and blues pianist and singer Charles Brown.
"When I first started, I had to do some songs I didn't care for, but now I more or less sing what I want to sing," she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1993. "I want a good lyric. I don't want nonsense. I like heavy dramatic tunes -- a tune that's saying something, like Sammy Cahn's 'All the Way.' "
She received the Eubie Blake Jazz Award and the International Women in Jazz Foundation's lifetime achievement award.
Survivors include her husband, John Medlock of Washington; two sisters; and a granddaughter.
A daughter from a previous marriage predeceased her.