On May 1, 1934, Shirley Valerie Horn was born in Washington, D.C. Her parents created a musical household: her father, an accounting clerk, and her mother, a homemaker, often sang love songs around their home. In a Jazz Times interview, “Shirley Horn: Around the Horn with Shirley”, with journalist Lara Pellegrinelli, Shirley fondly recalled her and her two younger brothers’ childhood, gushing, “I came from a loving family. My mother and father loved each other and I saw a lot of love. All my life I’ve just felt like I was in my family’s arms.”
Horn first became fascinated with playing the piano when she was almost four years old. Her grandmother, who played the piano and organ at church, had a piano in her parlor. Although the room was cold, designated strictly for company and enclosed by French doors, Horn continued to enter the private space and play. Her grandmother encouraged her mother to find a musi teacher for Shirley. Horn recalled that she couldn’t even read or write but had started taking piano lessons with a teacher, Mr. Fletcher.