She began studying music when she was seven, taking eight years of piano lessons and two years of organ. As a child she sang in the choir at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Newark and played piano and organ in high school productions at Arts High School. She entered an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater in New York's Harlem area, singing "Body and Soul", and won the $10 prize and a week's engagement at the Apollo. From 1944 to 1945, she sang with Billy Eckstine and in 1947 she married her manager, trumpeter George Treadwell. Her later husbands included pro football player Clyde Atkins and trumpeter Waymon Reed. She received many awards, including an Emmy in 1981 for a tribute to George Gershwin and a Grammy in 1983.
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