Born and raised in West Philadelphia and is the third of five children. She was always an artistic person, focusing at a very young age on visual arts, fashion design and dance. Born with a passion for anything artistic, she danced and sang in high school. After a few performances under the direction of Faye Snow in West Phila High School, she was asked to audition to dance with Philadanco when the company was initially formed. After graduating from West Philadelphia High School and Delaware County Community College, Denise went on to pursue a career in health care. She worked in OB-GYN at a major teaching hospital in Philadelphia. For thirteen years she worked in Oncology, In-vitro Fertilization and High Risk OB as a Medical Assistant and as the department floater.
Nineteen eighty-three was a pivotal point in her life. Her popularity as a singer was growing as was her career at the hospital. It was evident that she was on a collision course. One day after a long day at the hospital and an even longer night performing in Atlantic City, she arrived at the hospital completely exhausted. It was then that she knew she had to make a decision. Did she want to give up music which had now become her passion or continue with her job in health care. Music won out and a a career that has spanned two plus decades was born.
With no formal vocal instruction, it’s apparent that Denise was born to sing. Unlike her brothers who were drummers in R&B bands, she had no true interest in becoming a performer. At thirteen she was introduced to Jazz by an uncle, Herbert Tatum, who had an extensive collection of Jazz LP's and a cousin Cynthia who had a love of Nina Simone. Her "studies" involved hours of listening to the Jazz greats, both vocalists and instrumentalists. Denise borrowed phrasing styles from Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat "King" Cole and Frank Sinatra. She gained an appreciation for lyrics from Lil Jimmy Scott, Nancy Wilson, Carmen McCrae and Nina Simone. Listening as intensely to Jazz as she did R&B or music of her era, she had no idea that her listening sessions were preparing her for a career in music.
She was "discovered" by a friend who heard her singing outside of her home and introduced her to the world of Jazz performance. The early gigs were difficult in that she was painfully stage shy. But with the help of Sam Reed, sax man and leader of the legendary Uptown Theater Orchestra she overcame her stage fright. Her early performance experiences involved sharing the stage with many legends, Butch Ballard, Arthur Harper, Sam Dougherty, Cecil Payne, Jymie Merritt, Bootsie Barnes, Lex Humphries,Phil Wright, Christian McBride, Dexter Wansel, Orrin Evans, Lonnie Plaxico, Sid Simmons, Dr. Guy Ramsey, Derrick Hodge, Chris Beck, Billy Paul, and many, many more. They taught her the importance of having something to say every time she stepped up to the microphone and also stressed the importance of telling a story through the words and music and not just singing the song. Their instruction paid off. One night while performing at Zanzibar Blue in Philadelphia, Denise met Dexter Wansel, writer,arranger, producer, and A&R director at Philadelphia International Records. That meeting would forge a work relationship that has spanned twenty years.
Listening to her warm tone, impeccable phrasing, and the absolute control she has of her voice is mesmerizing. Whether she's singing a Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan standard, or a Gladys Knight or Aretha Franklin cover, she puts her heart and soul into every note. Denise has mastered the art of making a song her own no matter what the genre. When performing with her band whether trio, quartet or quintet they are the driving force behind her and support her every note. They instinctively know what she's going to do next and meet her there with perfect timing.
Ms King has sung at almost all of the top venues in Philadelphia, several in New York, Paris, Turkey, Brazil, Africa, Germany and Japan during the past 25 years. She started her musical career in her thirties and has proclaimed herself a torch bearer. A keeper of the flame. She holds the preservation and presentation of the traditional style of Jazz singing close to her heart. No gimmicks, no pyrotechnics, just a intense focus on the melody and the lyrical content.
In 1999 due to many cuts in funding for the arts in schools, dwindling numbers at Jazz concerts and a need for musicians to have a supportive venue in which to play, she expanded beyond singing and founded Denise King Entertainment. She strongly believes in giving back to the community and through programs such as Be-Bop and Books (a literacy program for children) and Friday Night Jazz at Cedar Park, which takes place on Friday evenings through the Summer at Cedar Park 50th & Baltimore Aves in West Philly, she has been able to present free concerts for the past nine years. The grand aim of all of these programs is to bridge the gap between our younger generation, our more established citizens and the variety of cultures which make up our neighborhood. Denise says "West Philly is rich in history and culture and is brimming with artist in many different genre's and disciplines. West Philly is lucky enough to have a wide variety of people and cultures who make up this wonderful community. In 2005 The Mellon Corporation awarded her, the first female recipient, The Community Award for her Friday Night Jazz Series. Denise states with much enthusiasm, "We're all people and we all pretty much want the same things. Safe streets, safe schools, decent jobs, equal rights and opportunities. When we talk more, we learn who we are. Talking eliminates the guess work. Jazz is a great icebreaker and a great way to get the conversation started!"
July 2009, through the internet and social media, her career would take another unexpected turn. Olivier Hutman, a musician whom she had worked with 12 years prior found her on Facebook. He told her if she would come to Paris he would find her work. True to his promise he organized performances at clubs, festivals and concert halls across France, Belgium and Italy. After contacting Fred Midgeon producer, together they recorded a new CD, "No Tricks" on Cristal Records. It has garnered and continues to receive great reviews. She was nominated by the prestigious Academie du Jazz in France for Best Jazz Vocals 2011. Together with DKOH Trio they have toured extensively in France, Belgium, Germany and Italy. In March 2013 a new project "Give Me The High Sign" is scheduled for release. As with the "No Tricks" project Ms King has penned lyrics to three of the compositions on "Give Me The High Sign" with future plans in the direction of lyricist.
With a voice described as velvet smooth, warm and steeped in sophistication, she captivates you and holds you with every note. In this age of auto-tune, quick fixes and artistic gimickery, her love of people, performance style, and energy have ensured her a spot in the Jazz community for a long time.