Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

McRAE, Carmen

(b 8 April 1922, NYC; d 10 November 1994) Singer: one of the most highly regarded of all jazz singers, but like all the best true jazz singers, her interpretations of good songs cannot be used as radio fodder, so she did not receive the wider commercial exposure she deserved; also, as Gary Giddins has pointed out, as with many fine female singers her interpretations have an intelligent female sensibility: males and less interesting pop crooners get a better chance in the marketplace. Her influences included Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan; a friend of Holiday's as a teenager in Harlem, she was discovered by songwriter Irene Kitchings (Teddy Wilson's ex-wife) another Holiday pal. She worked with Benny Carter, Count Basie '44; then married to Kenny Clarke, made first records with Mercer Ellington '46-7 as Carmen Clarke. Worked as singer and intermission pianist in clubs during lean years early '50s but became a critical favourite, recording for obscure labels, then Decca '54. Singles in the Hot 100 '56-7 were 'The Next Time It Happens' (from musical show Pipe Dream) and 'Skyliner'. She toured the world (especially Japan), played Monterey and Newport Jazz Festivals, TV appearances etc. She recorded with Dave Brubeck '60-1; had accompanists such as Dave Frishberg, but continued to play piano in her act, made solo LP As Time Goes By '73.

Other albums included I Am Music on Blue Note; Sound Of Silence, Just A Little Lovin', Portrait Of Carmen, For Once In My Life, two-disc Great American Songbook, all on Atlantic; It Takes A Whole Lot Of Human Feelings and Ms Jazz on Groove Merchant; Carmen McRae, Carmen's Gold, Live And Doin' It, Alive!, In Person, I Want You, all on Mainstream; Two For The Road (with George Shearing), You're Lookin' At Me (songs associated with Nat King Cole) and Fine And Mellow '88 (recorded live at Birdland West) on Concord. Velvet Soul and Any Old Time were issued on Denon '86-7; Song Time on Hindsight reissued tracks from the '60s with the Norman Simmons Trio; Ms Magic was a Dunhill CD with strings, guest soloists, tracks from Buddah and Trio '80. Duets '87 on Verve with Betty Carter was a tour de force; a last deal with Novus resulted in Carmen Sings Monk '88, on which e.g. 'Well You Needn't' became 'It's Over Now', with clever lyrics by Mike Ferro, pulled off with delightful aplomb, and Sarah: Dedicated To You '91. She had a stroke and was bedridden the last three years of her life.