Joenell Fisher, 51, jazz club singer for nearly 20 years

October 06, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Joenell Fisher, a Baltimore native who sang in area jazz clubs for nearly two decades and recorded numerous songs, including one with Dizzy Gillespie, died Thursday at Union Memorial Hospital of pneumonia.

Ms. Fisher, 51, had a rich, earthy voice and an engaging stage presence that entertained local audiences from the late 1960s until she stopped performing in 1992.

"She didn't just come out on a stool and sit on it and sing," said Essie Cade, owner of the old Cade's Country Club in East Baltimore, where Ms. Fisher sang about once a week from the mid- to late 1980s.

"She was a performer," Ms. Cade said. "She entertained more than she sang. She moved around and got the crowd involved. The crowd really stood in line to see her. There was never a time when we didn't have a full house when she was singing."

Ms. Fisher performed mostly as part of an act called "Paradise featuring Jennelle Fisher." In addition to playing Cade's Country Club, the group performed at the old Ethel's Place and The Closet downtown, and the Sportsmen's Lounge in Northwest Baltimore.

Between songs, she often walked among the audience, asking names and trying to get to know each person.

"It was a personal thing with the crowd," said Kendra Ellis, a friend. "She knew she had them where she wanted them. She was the center of their attention, and vice versa."

A small woman with flowing hair and a soft speaking voice, Ms. Fisher first sang gospel music and was part of a group called Liz and the Gospelettes about 1962 until 1970.

She performed later with singer Bill Harris, playing shows in Washington and Baltimore, and along the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

"She sang a lot of Top 40 stuff, but it always had a gospel feel to it," said her son, Anthony Harrison of Baltimore. "She always added to the songs, to put her own style on everything she sang."

A career highlight was performing and recording with Dizzy Gillespie in 1987 at the Virgin Islands Jazz Festival. She also performed with local jazz artist Gary Bartz.

"She was more than just an entertainer, she was a show woman," said Fred Douglass, a friend who heard her perform countless times at the Sportsmen's Lounge. "She got the crowd into her music, and kept them involved."

Ms. Fisher graduated from the former Lake Clifton High School in the 1960s and worked several jobs before singing became her career.

When she retired from singing in 1992, she worked as a quality assurance inspector for the Polyseal company in East Baltimore.

"Locally, she was a star," her son said. "But she wanted to be someone like an Anita Baker. But her lifelong dream was to sing, and she did that."

Ms. Fisher lived in Rosedale in Baltimore County and enjoyed gardening and pets.

Services will be at 7 p.m. today at Second Baptist Church, 214 E. Lanvale St.

In addition to her son, Ms. Fisher, who was divorced, is survived by her father, Joe B. Fisher; four sisters, Bennie Blue, Ann M. Houston, Florine Fisher and Doreen Ferebee; and a granddaughter. All are of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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