Queen Esther Marrow was born in Newport News, Virginia. She began her career at the age of 22, when her talent and vocal gifts were discovered by Duke Ellington and made her debut as a featured artist in his "Sacred Concert" world tour. Marrow and Ellington formed a long-life friendship during the next four years while touring together. Queen has since performed with such musical greats as Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea and Bob Dylan.
In 1965, Marrow became active in the civil rights movement when she performed in Dr. Martin Luther King’s World Crusade. There she met her lifetime idol Mahalia Jackson, with whom she would later share the stage. Other political activists on the crusade were Jesse Jackson, Sidney Poitier and Dr. Ralph Abernathy.
Marrow was also involved in musical theater, jazz, television and film. She played Auntie ‘Em on Broadway in The Wiz, and was featured in several other Broadway shows including Comin’ Uptown, Nice To Be Civilized, and she starred as her idol Mahalia Jackson in the national tour of Sing Mahalia Sing, directed by George Faison. Marrow was featured in Motown’s film The Last Dragon, produced by Berry Gordy. Her numerous television appearances have ranged from the serious to the comic. They include Duke Ellington: The Music Lives On, as Oscar the Grouch’s mother in Sesame Street on PBS and New York to Paris with The Harlem Gospel Singers, also on PBS. In 1990, a dream of Marrow’s came true when Truly Blessed, a musical about Mahalia Jackson written by and starring Queen Esther, was seen in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and in New York on Broadway. The musical received three Helen Hayes nominations including Best New Play.
Marrow has performed for former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and done a command performance the British Royal Family. She sung at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II several times.
Most recently she founded The Harlem Gospel Singers, an international touring gospel group. The group with their popularity at an all-time high made history on July 7, 1998, as the only gospel group ever to perform the Grand Evenement du Maurier (grand event) at the Montreal Jazz Festival, drawing over 100,000 audience members.
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