(Story by Matt Thomas ’00)
Those in the know seem to be in unison when it comes to Gustavus Adolphus College alumnus Kurt Elling ’89: he is among the world’s foremost jazz vocalists living today. The New York Times declared, “Elling is the standout male vocalist of our time.” The Washington Post added, “Since the mid-1990s, no singer in jazz has been as daring, dynamic or interesting as Kurt Elling. With his soaring vocal flights, his edgy lyrics and sense of being on a musical mission, he has come to embody the creative spirit in jazz.”
Elling majored in history and minored in religion at Gustavus. He sang in the Gustavus Choir — the college’s premier choral ensemble — and also participated in the Chamber Singers and the Stage Band as a vocalist. In February of 2012, Elling told The Gustavian Weekly that “I have very good memories of being challenged and driven while in the Gustavus Choir under the direction of Karle Erickson. My memories with the Stage Band are equally pleasant. I enjoyed both my time in the choir and the band equally. But—as I think is the case with most people—it was the friendships I developed that made the most difference,”
He received his first Grammy nomination in 1995, just six years after earning his bachelor’s degree, in the Best Jazz Vocal Performance category. He now has 11 Grammy nominations to his name and in 2010 he won his first Grammy Award in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category for his 2009 album Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling Sings the Music of Coltrane and Hartman.
Elling has won every DownBeat Critics Poll for the last 13 years and has been named “Male Singer of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association eight times in that same span. Every one of his 10 albums has been nominated for a Grammy. He was the Artist-in-Residence for the Singapore and Monterey Jazz Festivals. He has also written multi-disciplinary works for The Steppenwolf Theatre and the City of Chicago. The Obama Administration’s first state dinner featured Elling in a command performance.
Elling has toured vigorously throughout his career, thrilling audiences throughout the world. In that time he has led his own ensemble and has collaborated with many of the world’s finest orchestras. He has also come back to his alma mater to perform on numerous occasions over the last decade.
His latest recording, 1619 Broadway — The Brill Building Project, honors and celebrates the locale that the London Telegraph called “the most important generator of popular songs in the Western world.”
More information about Elling, his career, and his music is available online at kurtelling.com.