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Webster’s definition of the ballad—”a romantic or sentimental song…”—doesn’t quite convey the sheer mesmerizing beauty such a tune can have when rendered by Shirley Horn. The former Howard University student first grabbed attention in the early ’60s, when she was embraced by such musical luminaries as Miles Davis and Quincy Jones. She released four albums that decade but soon thereafter chose to concentrate on raising a family. Though she never fully abandoned music, the D.C. native didn’t return to national attention until she signed with Verve, in 1986. Horn’s neither a powerhouse vocalist nor an adventurous musician; instead, she relies on her subtle voice and sparse instrumentation. Often accompanied only by her longtime partners, bassist Charles Ables and drummer Steve Williams, Horn carefully and deliberately whispers, purrs, and e-nun-ci-ates through songs of love and loss, occasionally answering her own vocal meter with delicate minor-key piano fingering. And although she does scat and swing for a few brassy cuts on each release, such compositions seem like mere interludes between the ballads. Whether working with master arranger Johnny Mandel, producing herself, or being produced by Washington City Paper contributing writer Joel E. Siegel, Horn’s unhurried style wonderfully spells out the affairs of the heart. She performs at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 24, in the Kennedy Center’s Grand Foyer. Free. (202) 467-4600. (Steve Kiviat)