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Jazz singer Joya Sherrill Guilmenot dies at 86

Joya Sherrill Guilmenot of Great Neck, a jazz singer who performed with Duke Ellington and later hosted a popular children's show on WPIX-TV, died June 28 after a long battle with leukemia. She was 86.

She was born with a vocal gift and crafted it, said Guilmenot's daughter, Alice Richelle Guilmenot LeNoir, of Manhattan. "She had the perfect pitch," LeNoir said.

Guilmenot was 17 when the legendary Ellington asked her to join his orchestra. Guilmenot toured the United States. Ellington would often choose her for solos during live performances. Guilmenot also contributed to performances of Ellington's "I'm Beginning To See The Light" in live concerts.

Guilmenot, born Aug. 20, 1927, in Bayonne, N.J., remained in the orchestra before enrolling in Wilberforce University in Ohio, the nation's oldest private African-American college, but attended only for a year before returning to Ellington's orchestra, LeNoir said. She sang on many of the tracks on Ellington's album, "A Drum Is a Woman."

Guilmenot later began a solo career and toured all over the world. In 1962 she played the USSR, with musician Benny Goodman. That same year also marked release of her first solo album, "Sugar and Spice." She would go on to release two more solo albums: 1964's "Joya Sherrill sings Duke" and 1994's "Black Beauty, The Duke in Mind."

In the early days of her singing career, Guilmenot met her future husband, Richard Guilmenot, a construction businessman. LeNoir said that they met because Richard Guilmenot was a friend of Ellington. They married in 1946.

The TV show "Time For Joya" first appeared in March 1970 and included her engaging her studio audience and viewers in games, songs, interviews and skits. Later her show took the title "Joya's Fun School."

As a mother, "she always gave us her full time," LeNoir said. "She wanted me to be the best person I can be."

In honor of her passing, the Guilmenot family created a compilation CD comprising many of the songs she sang and wrote. It also included a five-paragraph eulogy on the back, noting how she "leaves behind a loving bouquet of family and friends that will always cherish her memory and celebrate her life."

In addition to LeNoir, Guilmenot is survived by her sister, Alice Kinnebrew of Atlanta; a son, Richard Guilmenot III of Great Neck; son-in-law Kip LeNoir of Manhattan; daughter-in-law Melanie O. Guilmenot of Great Neck; granddaughter Melanie A Guilmenot of Houston; and grandson Richard A Guilmenot IV of Great Neck.

The wake was held Thursday at Fairchild Sons Inc. funeral home in Port Washington with a Mass Friday at Nassau Knolls in Port Washington. A memorial service was also held Friday at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses in Port Washington.

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