Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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RUSSELL, Carline and Catherine

(Carline Ray Russell, b 21 April 1925, New York City; and her daughter Catherine Russell, b 1956) Vocalists, the daughter and grand-daughter of the great Harlem bandleader Luis Russell. Carline was the daughter of Elisha Manassey Ray, who had toured Europe on tuba with James Reese Europe's band during WWI, and had attended Juilliard when Walter Damrosch was the band teacher there; Damrosch offered him a job in the New York Philharmonic, but he preferred the post office where the money was steady. Carline obtained a degree in composition at Juilliard and in voice at the Manhattan School of Music; she was a later member of The International Sweehearts of Rhythm, playing bass in shows with the likes of Moms Mabley and entertaining troops in Europe, and went from there to the Erskine Hawkins band on vocals (she also played 'After Hours' on the piano because she loved it, and so did the dancers at the Savoy). She worked with Ellis Larkins (a classmate at Juilliard), and Mary Lou Williams, helping Williams with her Mass, rounding up singers who could sight-read and taking part in the recording of the Mass, which led to work with Alvin Ailey and Leonard Bernstein: she was a concert chorister for 50 years. She received a National Endowment grant and used it to study bass with Major Holly in the 1980s, and played for Mercer Ellington in the Duke Ellington ghost band. She finally made her first own album, Carline Ray: Vocal Sides, released on CarlCat in 2013.

Carline's album was co-produced by her daughter. Catherine, after years of radio and TV jingle work and of recording and touring the world singing backup with artists as diverse as Paul Simon, David Bowie, Steely Dan, Cyndi Lauper, Jackson Browne, Michael Feinstein, Levon Helm and Rosanne Cash, suddenly went solo as a fine singer of America's best songs. Recording for Harmonia Mundi's World Village label, her albums have been Cat (2006), Sentimental Streak (2008), Inside This Heart Of Mine (2010), Strictly Romancin' (2012), and Harlem On My Mind 2016, the latter compiling tunes sung by the stars of the Apollo Theater. One of her tracks was heard in an HBO series Boardwalk Empire and on a soundtrack album, earning her a Grammy. She has appeared at festivals and won honors all over the world, and there was an interview/ performance with Terry Gross on NPR, but nothing compares with the experience of hearing her for the first time: half a century of hype and noise goes away and her warm, swinging alto reminds you why you love music so much.