Carmen McRae

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Carmen McRae
Background information
Birth nameCarmen Mercedes McRae
Also known as"The Singer's Singer"
Born(1920-04-08)April 8, 1920
OriginHarlem,
New York City, New York,
United States
DiedNovember 10, 1994(1994-11-10) (aged 74)
Beverly Hills, California, United States
GenresVocal jazz, bebop, traditional pop
OccupationsSinger, pianist
InstrumentsPiano
Years active1939–1991
LabelsDecca, Verve, Atlantic, Novus, Columbia, Blue Note, Concord, Buddah
Associated actsSammy Davis, Jr.
Billie Holiday
Cal Tjader
George Shearing
Dave Brubeck
 
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Carmen McRae
Background information
Birth nameCarmen Mercedes McRae
Also known as"The Singer's Singer"
Born(1920-04-08)April 8, 1920
OriginHarlem,
New York City, New York,
United States
DiedNovember 10, 1994(1994-11-10) (aged 74)
Beverly Hills, California, United States
GenresVocal jazz, bebop, traditional pop
OccupationsSinger, pianist
InstrumentsPiano
Years active1939–1991
LabelsDecca, Verve, Atlantic, Novus, Columbia, Blue Note, Concord, Buddah
Associated actsSammy Davis, Jr.
Billie Holiday
Cal Tjader
George Shearing
Dave Brubeck

Carmen Mercedes McRae (April 8, 1920 – November 10, 1994) was an American jazz singer, composer, pianist, and actress. Considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th century, it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and her ironic interpretations of song lyrics that made her memorable.[1] McRae drew inspiration from Billie Holiday, but established her own distinctive voice. She went on to record over 60 albums, enjoying a rich musical career, performing and recording in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

Contents

Biography

McRae was born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrant parents, Osmond and Evadne McRae. She began studying piano when she was eight, and the music of jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington filled her home. She met singer Billie Holiday when she was just 17 years old. As a teenager McRae came to the attention of Teddy Wilson and his wife, the composer Irene Kitchings Wilson. One of McRae's early songs, "Dream of Life", through their influence, was recorded in 1939 by Wilson’s longtime collaborator Billie Holiday.[2] McRae considered Holiday to be her primary influence.

In her late teens and early twenties, McRae played piano at a New York club called Minton's Playhouse, Harlem's most famous jazz club, sang as a chorus girl, and worked as a secretary. It was at Minton's where she met trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clarke, had her first important job as a pianist with the Benny Carter's big band (1944), worked with Count Basie (1944) and made first recording as pianist with the Mercer Ellington Band (1946–1947). But it was while working in Brooklyn that she came to the attention of Decca’s Milt Gabler. Her five-year association with Decca yielded 12 LPs.

In 1948 she moved to Chicago with comedian George Kirby. She played piano steadily for almost four years before returning to New York. Those years in Chicago, McRae told Jazz Forum, "gave me whatever it is that I have now. That's the most prominent schooling I ever had."[3] Back in New York in the early 1950s, McRae got the record contract that launched her career. In 1954, she was voted best new female vocalist by Down Beat magazine. She married bassist Ike Isaacs in the late 1950s.

Among her most interesting recording projects were Mad About The Man (1957) with composer Noël Coward, Boy Meets Girl (1957) with Sammy Davis, Jr., participating in Dave Brubeck's The Real Ambassadors (1961) with Louis Armstrong, a tribute album You're Lookin' at Me (A Collection of Nat King Cole Songs) (1983), cutting an album of live duets with Betty Carter, The Carmen McRae-Betty Carter Duets (1987), being accompanied by Dave Brubeck and George Shearing, and closing her career with brilliant tributes to Thelonious Monk, Carmen Sings Monk (1990), and Sarah Vaughan, Sarah: Dedicated to You (1991).

As a result of her early friendship with Billie Holiday, she never performed without singing at least one song associated with "Lady Day", and recorded an album in 1983 in her honor entitled For Lady Day, which was released in 1995, with songs including "Good Morning Heartache", "Them There Eyes", "Lover Man", "God Bless the Child" and "Don't Explain". McRae also recorded with the world best jazz musicians, Take Five Live (1961) with Dave Brubeck, Heat Wave (1982) with Cal Tjader, and Two for the Road (1989) with George Shearing.

Carmen McRae sang in jazz clubs throughout the United States — and across the world — for over fifty years. She was a popular performer at the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival (1961–1963, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1982). Performing with Duke Ellington's at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1980, singing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", and at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1989.[4]

Carmen McRae was forced to retire in 1991 due to emphysema.[5] McRae died on November 10, 1994, in Beverly Hills, California, from a stroke, following complications from respiratory illness.

Awards

Carmen McRae Grammy Award Recognitions[6]
YearCategoryTitleLabelResult
1990Best Jazz Vocal Performance - FemaleCarmen Sings MonkNovusNominee
1988Best Jazz Vocal Performance - FemaleFine and MellowConcord JazzNominee
1988Best Jazz Vocal Performance - Duo or GroupThe Carmen McRae-Betty Carter DuetsGreat American Music HallNominee
1987Best Jazz Vocal Performance - FemaleAny Old TimeDenonNominee
1984Best Jazz Vocal PerformanceYou're Lookin' at Me (A Collection of Nat King Cole Songs)Concord JazzNominee
1977Best Jazz Vocal PerformanceCarmen McRae at the Great American Music HallBlue NoteNominee
1971Best Jazz Performance - SoloistCarmen McRaeAtlanticNominee
Carmen McRae Awards
YearOrganizationCategoryResult
1994National Endowment for the ArtsNEA Jazz MastersWinner
1993NAACPNAACP Image AwardsWinner

Filmography

Movies

Television

Partial Discography

YearTitleLabel
1990Sarah: Dedicated to YouNovus
1988Carmen Sings MonkNovus
1988Fine and Mellow: Live at Birdland West (Live)Concord
1987The Carmen McRae-Betty Carter Duets (Live, with Betty Carter)Great American Music Hall
1987What Do The Words Say (with Ray Brown)Blue Music Group
1983You're Lookin' at Me (A Collection of Nat King Cole Songs)Concord Jazz
1982Heat Wave (with Cal Tjader)Concord Jazz
1980Two for the Road (with George Shearing)Concord Jazz
1977At The Great American Music HallBlue Note
1975Live at Century PlazaAtlantic
1972The Great American SongbookAtlantic
1970Just a Little Lovin'Atlantic
1967Portrait of CarmenAtlantic
1967Sounds of SilenceAtlantic
1967For Once in My LifeAtlantic
1965Alive!Columbia
1962Something WonderfulColumbia
1962The Real AmbassadorsColumbia
1961Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man and other Billie Holiday ClassicsColumbia
1961Take Five LiveColumbia
1960Book of BalladsKapp
1958Boy Meets Girl (with Sammy Davis, Jr.)Decca
1958Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday at Newport (Released 2001)Verve
1957After GlowDecca
1956Blue MoonDecca
1955TorchyDecca
1954Easy to LoveBethlehem
1954Carmen McRaeBethlehem

References

External links