Morgana King in 1965.                                 (ABC Photo Archives / Getty Images)

By Sheldon T. Nunn – Morgana King, widely known for her portrayal of Carmela Corleone the wife of Marlon Brando’s character Don Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie adaptation of ‘The Godfather I & II’ has passed away on March 22nd at 87 from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Most notably, Morgana’s career was not that of an actress, but that of a much publicized jazz singer during the 1940s and well into the ‘90s.

Born Maria Grazia Morgana Messina on June 4, 1950 in Pleasantville, New York to Italian immigrants, she began her professional career at sixteen following studies at the Metropolitan School of Music. Assuming the name Morgana King, she was singing in a Greenwich Village nightclub in 1953 where a record label executive so-impressed by her rock-solid grasp of phrasing and four-octave range of singing, he signed her to a contract. In 1955, she released her first album entitled ‘Morgana Sings the Blues,’ followed by ‘For You, For Me, For Evermore’ in 1956, both heard on the EmArcy Record Label. Possessing a passionate love for the big band and bebop style of jazz, Morgana King was a staple on the nightclub circuit for more than 50 years. She recorded more than 20 albums and was often perceived as a singer with considerable chops; however, she was never quite the household word as was Billie Holiday, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald or some of the other prominent vocalists of her generation. The high point of Morgana’s career came in 1964 with a rendition of “A Taste of Honey;” but even with that she never achieved the next level of acclaim, even though her vocal agility was widely-known.

Ahead of her time, Morgana was unconventional in approach and was one of the first vocalists to adopt the bossa nova style of jazz as introduced during the early 1960s. Often seen on television and appeared in a number of movies, she was most comfortable singing in front of live audiences. Overall, Morgana King was constantly reaching for her own level of influence in a single-minded way, often charting a path that she deemed most appropriate for the musical message she wanted to convey. In an often hostile world dominated by men, she helped to heighten the awareness of female jazz singers and opened doors for women in jazz as somewhat of a maverick fueled by an uncompromising approach to her craft, which may have contributed to Ms. King’s limited display of commercial notoriety. In retrospect, it may be said Morgana King was a “jazz activated sensual energy ray” that illuminates a career filled unique blend of artistic impressionism at its best.