Carmen McRae (1922 - 1994)



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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

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New York, New York County, New York United States


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

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Last Known Residence

Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California

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Singer - Actress
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]
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
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


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African American




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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.

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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.
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.


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