Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Raya Yarbrough is not an easy artist to categorize. Yarbrough (who plays acoustic guitar and acoustic piano) is quite capable of performing vocal jazz and has recorded jazz standards such as Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," Woody Herman's "Early Autumn" and Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring," but her original material is hardly the work of a jazz purist or a bop snob; the Southern Californian has also been greatly affected by soul, folk, blues and rock, making it very difficult to pigeonhole her stylistically. Yarbrough has brought an intriguing variety of direct or indirect influences to the table, ranging from Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack, Joan Armatrading and Tracy Chapman to Abbey Lincoln, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Odetta.
Yarbrough was born and raised in L.A., where her father Martin Yarbrough (a singer, guitarist and songwriter) encouraged her interest in music and exposed her to jazz and R&B at an early age. After high school, Yarbrough attended the University of Southern California (USC) and obtained a BA from the Thornton School of Music. One of her teachers at USC was acoustic pianist Shelly Berg (who served as president of the International Association of Jazz Educators from 1996-1998), and she also studied with acoustic bassist John Clayton (of Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra fame) during her USC days. In 2004, Yarbrough self-released her debut album, Raya's Mood, and in 2006, she recorded a self-titled album that @Telarc released in early 2008; that disc was produced by guitarist Steve Bartek, who is best known for his contributions to the new wave band Oingo Boingo in the '70s and '80s. ~ Alex Henderson