Eunice Newkirk, the jazz vocalist who effortlessly blended the deep-rooted genres of blues and gospel into an enriching sound that touched the soul to its core, died on March 1. She was 83.

Newkirk was known as a jazz singer, but that description was so confining for such a multi-faceted singer whose roots began in the church, instinctively giving her a gospel, blues timbre that captured the emotions of her life experiences. She recorded three CDs: “Yes, God Is Real,” “Your Request” (jazz-based) and “In Your Honor.” All three were well received throughout the Harlem community and her international fanbase. Her repertoire from these three CDs demonstrated her intuitive fusing gospel, jazz swing, and pop rhythms. 

She was a frequent performer at Jazzmobile’s Summerfest and its special events. 

One of her final performances last year, entitled “The Two Sides of Eunice,” gave that New York audience an up-close, in-person view of how her spirited passion took listeners directly to the church, from singing along to loud clapping to a cool jazz standard. She was enthusiastically acknowledged in Harlem, throughout the United States, and in South America, Asia, and Europe. The saxophonist and composer Bill Saxton noted, “Eunice was one of the very best vocalists in any kind of music. You could always hear the blues when she sang.” 

Performing her truth of gospel music in churches throughout the Tri-State area on a regular basis earned Newkirk the title “God’s Messenger.” In 1991, Newkirk joined Abyssinian Baptist Church where she remained a member until her transition. As an active member of the choir she shared her professional music experiences with the church’s music ministry. 

“Eunice Newkirk was more than one of my dearest and most cherished friends. She was family, sometimes mom, sometimes sister,” said educator and consultant Ron West. “Our Abyssinian Baptist Church ‘Song Bird’ was most noted as one of Harlem’s most accomplished jazz performers.” Newkirk was one of the original singer participating at the “Abyssinian Jazz Vespers.”

In 1987, Newkirk tried her thespian skills, performing in the play “Over Forty,” written by her long-time friend Weldon Irving. The play opened at the Billie Holiday Theater and ran for more than two years before hitting the road on a national tour. She went on to perform in at least eight more theatrical productions as well as appearing in television commercials. 

Eunice Newkirk was born in the Bronx, New York, to Climith and Queen Esther Newkirk. She was the youngest of 14 children of a religious and musical family. Her parents’ inspiration led her to pursue a career in music. She married John Marcelli in 1962 and welcomed two children, Robyn and Kevin.

Newkirk’s vibrant stage presence, affirmed by her colorful tones, will be missed, along with her big smile after each of her performances.

Newkirk is survived by her two children; Robyn Marcelli and Kevin Marcelli; her grandson, Kevin Marcelli; her sister Lee Kirk; and many nieces and nephews.

A virtual service was held for Newkirk on March 11. A memorial tribute service “Celebrating Her Life” will be held on April 22, (11am) at Abyssinian Baptist Church.

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