Carmen McRae (1922 - 1994)

ADVERTISEMENT BY ANCESTRY.COM

Summary

Carmen McRae’s biography is built and maintained by people like you. Create an online profile of Carmen so that her life is remembered forever. If any factual information is incorrect, please edit Carmen’s biography.

Carmen McRae
Birth name Carmen Mercedes McRae
Born April 8, 1922 Harlem, New York, U.S.
Died November 10, 1994 (aged 72) Beverly Hills, California
Genres Jazz, vocal jazz, traditional pop
Occupation(s) Singer, Musician and Actress
Instruments Vocals, piano
Years active 1939–1991
Labels Decca, Kapp, Columbia, Mainstream, Atlantic, Blue Note, Concord, Novus
Associated acts Jack Pleis, Sammy Davis, Jr., Billie Holiday, Norman Simmons, Cal Tjader, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck
Carmen Mercedes McRae (April 8, 1922 – November 10, 1994) was an American jazz singer. She is considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th century and is remembered for her behind-the-beat phrasing and ironic interpretation of lyrics. McRae was inspired by Billie Holiday, but she established her own voice. She recorded over sixty albums and performed worldwide.
McRae was born in Harlem. Her father, Osmond, and mother, Evadne McRae, were immigrants from Jamaica. She began studying piano when she was eight, and the music of jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington filled her home. When she was just 17 years old she met singer Billie Holiday. As a teenager McRae came to the attention of Teddy Wilson and his wife, the composer Irene Kitchings. One of McRae's early songs, "Dream of Life", was, through their influence, recorded in 1939 by Wilson’s long-time collaborator Billie Holiday. McRae considered Holiday to be her primary influence. She was a lifelong active Democrat.
In her late teens and early twenties, McRae played piano at a New York City 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 Benny Carter's big band (1944), worked with Count Basie (1944) and under the name "Carmen Clarke" (having married Kenny Clarke)[3] made her first recording as pianist with the Mercer Ellington Band (1946–47). 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 and impressionist George Kirby, with whom she had fallen in love. At the end of the relationship, she worked as a pianist and singer at the Archway Lounge. She played piano steadily for almost four years at a number of clubs in Chicago before returning to New York in 1952. In Chicago she developed her own specific style. 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."
Back in New York in the early 1950s, McRae got the record contract that launched her career. She was voted best new female vocalist of 1954 by DownBeat magazine. MacRae married twice: to drummer Kenny Clarke from 1944 to 1956, though they separated in 1948; , and to bassist Ike Isaacs in the late 1950s. Both marriages ended in divorce.
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 she 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 some of the world's best jazz musicians in albums such as Take Five Live (1961) with Dave Brubeck, Two for the Road (1980) with George Shearing, and Heat Wave (1982) with Cal Tjader. The latter two albums were part of a notable eight-year relationship with Concord Jazz.
McRae sang in jazz clubs throughout the United States — and across the world — for more than fifty years. She was a popular performer at the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival (1961–63, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1982), performing with Duke Ellington's orchestra at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1980, singing "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", and at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1989.[10] She left New York for Southern California in the late 1960s, but appeared in New York regularly, usually at the Blue Note, where she performed two engagements a year through most of the 1980s. In May–June 1988, she collaborated with Harry Connick Jr. on the song "Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" (S. Clare & S. Stept) in New York City at the RCA Studios, for Connick's debut album, 20.[8] She withdrew from public performance in May 1991 after an episode of respiratory failure only hours after she completed an engagement at the Blue Note jazz club in New York.
On November 10, 1994, McRae died at her home in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 72. She had fallen into a semi-coma four days earlier, a month after being hospitalized for a stroke.

Carmen McRae Biography & Family History

This genealogy profile is dedicated to the life and ancestry of Carmen McRae and her immediate Mcrae family. Add to Carmen McRae's genealogy page to share your memories & historical research with her family and other genealogy hobbyists.

Birth


New York, New York County, New York United States

Death


Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, California United States
Cause of death: Stroke

Cause of death

Stroke

Burial / Funeral

Do you know the final resting place - gravesite in a cemetery or location of cremation - of Carmen McRae? Add burial and funeral information.

Obituary

Last Known Residence

Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California

Average Age

Life Expectancy

Family

Add family members

Education

Did Carmen finish grade school, get a GED, go to high school, get a college degree or masters? What schools or universities did Carmen attend? Add education.

Professions

Singer - Actress
Films
1956: The Square Jungle, herself[12]
1960: The Subterraneans, played herself[13]
1967: Hotel, played Christine[14]
1986: Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling, played the grandmother[15]
Television
1976: Soul
1976: Sammy and Company
1979: Carmen McRae in Concert
1979: Roots: The Next Generations, played Lila[16]
1980: From Jumpstreet
1981: At the Palace
1981: Billie Holiday. A Tribute
1982: L. A. Jazz
Awards
Carmen McRae Grammy Award Recognitions[11]
Year Category Title Label Result
1971 Best Jazz Performance - Soloist Carmen McRae Atlantic Nominee
1977 Best Jazz Vocal Performance At the Great American Music Hall Blue Note Nominee
1984 Best Jazz Vocal Performance You're Lookin' at Me (A Collection of Nat King Cole Songs) Concord Jazz Nominee
1987 Best Jazz Vocal Performance - Female Any Old Time Denon Nominee
1988 Best Jazz Vocal Performance - Duo or Group The Carmen McRae-Betty Carter Duets Great American Music Hall Nominee
1988 Best Jazz Vocal Performance - Female Fine and Mellow Concord Jazz Nominee
1990 Best Jazz Vocal Performance - Female Carmen Sings Monk Novus Nominee
Carmen McRae Awards
Year Organization Category Result
1993 NAACP NAACP Image Awards Winner
1994 National Endowment for the Arts NEA Jazz Masters Winner

Organizations

Add organizations, groups and memberships.

Military Service

It is unknown if Carmen McRae is a military veteran.

Middle name

Unknown. Add middle name

Maiden name

Unknown. Add maiden name

Surnames

Ethnicity

African American

Nationality

American

Religion

Unknown. Was Carmen a religious woman? Add Carmen’s religion

Gender

Female

Timeline

1922 - In the year that Carmen McRae was born, on James Joyce's 40th birthday, his book Ulysses was published in France. The book covers the experiences of an Irishman in Dublin on an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Now considered a classic, it was controversial at the time. Due to some sexual content, the book was banned in the U.S. during the 1920's and the U.S. Post Office destroyed 500 copies of the novel.

1938 - She was 16 years old when on October 30th, a Sunday, The Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast Orson Welles' special Halloween show The War of the World's. A clever take on H.G. Wells' novel, the show began with simulated "breaking news" of an invasion by Martians. Because of the realistic nature of the "news," there was a public outcry the next day, calling for regulation by the FCC. Although the current story is that many were fooled and panicked, in reality very few people were fooled. But the show made Orson Welles' career.

1965 - At the age of 43 years old, Carmen was alive when the television show "I Spy" premiered in the fall season on NBC. The stars were Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, making Cosby the first African American to headline a television show. Four stations - in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama - refused to air the show.

1984 - By the time she was 62 years old, on January 1, "Baby Bells" were created. AT&T had been the provider of telephone service (and equipment) in the United States. The company kept Western Electric, Bell Labs, and AT&T Long Distance. Seven new regional companies (the Baby Bells) covered local telephone service and were separately owned. AT&T lost 70% of its book value due to this move.

1994 - In the year of Carmen McRae's passing, on May 6th, former political prisoner, lawyer, and activist Nelson Mandela was elected the first black President of South Africa. He was 75 when he was elected and he served one five-year term.

Carmen McRae Family Tree

Who was Carmen’s parents? Did she get married and did they have children? Share Carmen’s family tree to share her legacy and genealogy pedigree.

Carmen's Family
Add a parent
Add a parent
Carmen McRae
Add a partner
Add a child
Add a sibling

You can add or remove people from Carmen's family tree by clicking here.

Obituary

This obit of Carmen McRae is updated by the community. Edit this biography to contribute to her obituary. Include details such as cemetery, burial, newspaper obituary and grave or marker inscription if available.

On November 10, 1994, McRae died at her home in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 72. She had fallen into a semi-coma four days earlier, a month after being hospitalized for a stroke.
Discography
Albums
Carmen McRae (Bethlehem, 1954)
A Foggy Day (Stardust, with Ivie Anderson, 1955)
By Special Request (Decca, 1955)
Torchy (Decca, 1955)
Blue Moon (Decca, 1956)
Boy Meets Girl (Decca, with Sammy Davis Jr., 1957)
After Glow (Decca, 1957)
Mad About the Man (Decca, 1957)
Carmen for Cool Ones (Decca, 1957)
Porgy and Bess (Decca, with Sammy Davis, Jr., 1958)
Birds of a Feather (Decca, 1958)
Book of Ballads (Kapp, 1958)
Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday at Newport (Verve, 1958, [2001])
When You're Away (Kapp, 1959)
Something to Swing About (Kapp, 1959)
In London (Kapp, 1962)
Tonight Only! (Columbia, with Dave Brubeck, 1960)
Take Five Live (Columbia, with Dave Brubeck, 1961)
The Real Ambassadors (Columbia, with Louis Armstrong, 1962)
Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics (Columbia, 1961)
Something Wonderful (Columbia, 1963)
Bittersweet (Focus, 1964)
In Person (Mainstream, 1963)
Live and Doin' It (Mainstream, 1965)
"Live" and Wailing (Mainstream, 1965)
Carmen McRae (Mainstream, 1966)
Second to None (Mainstream, 1964)
Haven't We Met? (Mainstream, 1965)
Woman Talk (Mainstream, 1966)
For Once in My Life (Atlantic, 1967)
The Sound of Silence (Atlantic, 1968)
Portrait of Carmen (Atlantic, 1968)
Just a Little Lovin' (Atlantic, 1970)
November Girl (Black Lion, 1970 [1975]) with the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland Big Band
The Great American Songbook (Atlantic, 1972)
Carmen (Temponic, 1972)
It Takes a Whole Lot of Human Feeling (Groove Merchant, 1973)
Ms. Jazz (Groove Merchant, 1973 [1974])
As Time Goes By: Carmen McRae Alone - Live at the Dug (Catalyst, 1973)
Live at Century Plaza (Atlantic, 1975)
I Am Music (Blue Note, 1975)
At the Great American Music Hall (Blue Note, 1976)
Can't Hide Love (Blue Note, 1976)
I'm Coming Home Again (Buddha, 1980)
Two for the Road (Concord, with George Shearing, 1980)
Recorded Live at Bubba's (Who's Who in Jazz, 1981)
Heat Wave (Concord, with Cal Tjader, 1982)
You're Lookin' at Me (A Collection of Nat King Cole Songs) (Concord, 1983)
What Do the Words Say (Blue Music Group, with Ray Brown, 1986, [2009])
Any Old Time (Denon, 1987)
Fine and Mellow: Live at Birdland West (Concord, 1988)
The Carmen McRae-Betty Carter Duets (Great American Music Hall, with Betty Carter, 1988)
Carmen Sings Monk (Novus, 1990)
Sarah: Dedicated to You (Novus, 1991)
Guest appearances
With Harry Connick, Jr.
"Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" on 20 (Columbia, 1988)
"Vocal Encounters", anthology album of Dave Brubeck, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, on previously unreleased tracks.

Memories

What do you remember about Carmen McRae? Share your memories of special moments and stories you have heard about her. Or just leave a comment to show the world that Carmen is remembered.

Write a comment

Other Records of Carmen McRae

ADVERTISEMENT BY ANCESTRY.COM

Other Biographies

Success Stories from Biographies like Carmen McRae

I have to tell you a VERY special story about how AncientFaces helped to reunite our family. For 13 years, I have been searching for my grandmother's missing sister. She just disappeared from the family in the 1930s without a trace. No one ever knew where or when she died or where she was buried. My years of searching have just run into dead ends, so I had given up. Today, out-of-the-blue, a young lady called me and said that she had seen a photograph on AncientFaces and one of the women in the photo was her grandmother! Little did I know that she had left a small child behind when she died so young of TB. You can imagine our shock and excitement at finding each other and a whole new family that we never knew existed. We only live one state away from each other and very soon plan to have all family members meet to share our sides of "the story" and of course, many, many more picturesl AncientFaces...... without you, this family may never have been complete and Aunt Grace would have been lost to us forever. I hope you realize what a valuable service you provide and how grateful we are to have found you. Thank you!!!! -Lynda B.
I never knew my biological family. My family is my mother and father who raised me. But, as I got older I got curious about my heritage. It took me years of investigation to finally discover my parents’ names. Well, I get goosebumps just writing this, I have found my biological family because of AncientFaces. Yes!! I did a search for my [parents' names] and was shocked to find a photo of them on AncientFaces! I cannot tell you the feeling that came over me when I saw this photo - to see the faces of my biological parents…JUST LIKE THAT. I left a comment on the photo and you won’t believe this - the owner of the photo is MY SISTER!!! Yes, I have a LITTLE sister! It turns out my parents were too young when they had me and had to give me up. My little sister knew I existed and wanted to find me but had no way of doing it. Thanks to you I am meeting my little sister for the first time next month. GOD BLESS YOU ANCIENTFACES. -Anonymous
We have found our missing relative entirely thanks to AncientFaces. We have received a much clearer photo of Captain Grant from his Son. The picture we on AncientFaces is an old yellowed newspaper photo. I am attaching the new photo and ask that you take the old one out and put the new clear picture in its place. With our Canadian Remembrance Day here in 2 days - the timing could not be better. Thank You, AncientFaces. My long lost Aunt is now 86 years old and her Son and I are talking by phone and e-mails. Captain Grant was his Father and died in France in 1944 and is buried there. By posting pictures of the visit to his gravesite - we connected through one of his brothers. Amazing that our prayers have been answered. Thank you -Beth B.
I came home for lunch yesterday and decided to look at my email before going back to work. The weekly newsletter that I subscribe to from the Logan Family History Center had this message in it about AncientFaces. I clicked on the link and the first search I did was for Woodruff, and Mamie was the first picture that came up. I could hardly stand it. I was late getting back to work. I had to add comments and write to you. Thank you for noticing her in the store and for the website. I can't help but wonder how many other family pictures may have ended up in that store and why. I also can't help but feel that it was meant to be and that there is a purpose that this picture is coming home as you say. What are the chances of this all just happening? It's amazing that you even picked it up at the store and then went to all the extra effort to post it. It makes me feel as though you have been my friend forever. It certainly has given me a connection to you, and I have a love for what you do. I just can't tell you how excited I am. I can't even hold it in. -Cathy K., Utah
I have previously submitted several pictures of my grandfather August Zemidat. I have tried for many years to find anyone with that name, and I have searched many genealogy web sites to no avail. Recently I was contacted by someone who saw my pictures on AncientFaces who may well be a cousin. She also provided me with information that seems to indicate her grandparents were my grandfather’s siblings. Considering the many years I have been searching for the name Zemidat, I find this is absolutely amazing that I have finally found a family member. Thank you AncientFaces -Ron D.
I love AncientFaces, a while back I saw that you had labeled Garcia surname pictures. At the time I didn’t have all my family facts for my research. Anyway, I wandered into your site just to check it out AND NOW 1 YEAR LATER I received a picture from an 87 year old aunt and guess what you had this very same picture on your site!! (They were my great aunts and my great-grandmother!). Thank you… -Angela M.
I have loved AncientFaces since I first found it, it's the first thing I check when I turn on the computer. There was a time when even in the most modest households there were three cherished possessions, a family Bible. a family album and a fancy lamp. It was usual for the family to gather in the parlour, generally on Sunday and talk, tell stories of family and friends with the photos in the albums as illustration. Sadly in our modern electronic age we have fallen away from the oral tradition and interest in history has waned. I was quite shocked on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic to see so many comments from younger people who were surprised to learn that the Titanic wasn't just a movie. This is why AncientFaces is so important, to me it's the electronic age version of the oral tradition on a global scale and the sheer volume of people who follow, comment and contribute seems to prove the point. We are all grateful to you all for providing us with this wonderful site. - Arba M.