BETTY CARTER Biography - Musicians


Biography » musicians » betty carter


Name: Betty Carter                                                                       
Birth name: Lillie Mae Jones                                                             
Born: 16 May 1929 Flint, Michigan                                                       
Died: 26 September 1998 (aged 69)                                                       
Betty Carter (May 16, 1929 - September 26, 1998) was an American jazz singer who         
was renowned for her improvisational technique and idiosyncratic vocal style.           
Carter expanded the role of the vocalist in jazz, to a full, improvising member         
of the band. Although her voice was not as admired by the public as such                 
vocalists as Sarah Vaughan or Ella Fitzgerald, many consider her to have                 
exercised mastery of the human voice previously unheard in jazz. Carmen McRae           
once claimed that "there's really only one jazz singer - only one: Betty Carter."       
Carter was born Lillie Mae Jones in Flint, Michigan and grew up in Detroit,             
where her father led a church choir. She studied piano at the Detroit                   
Conservatory. She won a talent contest and became a regular on the local club           
circuit, singing and playing piano. When she was sixteen, she sang with Charlie         
Parker, and she later performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. She honed         
her scat singing ability while on tour with Lionel Hampton in the late 1940s. It         
was Hampton's wife Gladys who gave her the nickname "Betty Bebop," a nickname           
she detested. In the 1950s Carter made recordings with King Pleasure and the Ray         
Bryant Trio. Her first solo LP, Out There with Betty Carter, was released on the         
Peacock label in 1958.                                                                   
Carter's career was eclipsed somewhat during the 1960s and 1970s, though a               
series of duets with Ray Charles in 1961, including the R&B-chart-topping "Baby,         
It's Cold Outside," brought her a measure of popular recognition. In 1963 she           
toured in Japan with Sonny Rollins. She recorded for various labels during this         
period, including ABC-Paramount, Atco and United Artists, but was rarely                 
satisfied with the resulting product.                                                   
An episode in which a record company A&R man tried to run off with a set of her         
master recordings led her to establish her own record label, Bet-Car, in 1970.           
Some of her most outstanding recordings were originally issued on Bet-Car,               
including the double album The Audience with Betty Carter (1980). In 1980 she           
was the subject of a documentary film by Michelle Parkerson, But Then, She's             
Betty Carter.                                                                           
In the last decade of her life Carter finally began to receive wider acclaim and         
recognition. In 1987 she signed with Verve Records, who reissued most of her Bet-Car     
albums on CD for the first time and made them available to wider audiences. In           
1988 she won a Grammy for her album Look What I Got! and sang in a guest                 
appearance on The Cosby Show (episode "How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?"). In           
1994 she performed at the White House and was a headliner at Verve's 50th               
anniversary celebration in Carnegie Hall. In 1997 she was awarded a National             
Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton. Carter remained active in jazz music           
until her death in September 1998 from pancreatic cancer.                               
Like Art Blakey, Carter became known for working with developing young players.         
Beginning in the 1970s, she recruited most of her sidemen from a younger                 
generation of musicians. In 1993 she helped launch the Jazz Ahead program for           
young musicians at the Kennedy Center.                                                   
Carter was a composer and arranger as well as an interpreter of songs. Her               
composition "Open the Door" became her own signature song; she recorded it               
several times in different arrangements and often used it to conclude her live           
performances. Her 1964 recording of the song was featured in the soundtrack of           
the 1999 film American Beauty. She was also known for her clever (and often             
humorous) medleys of Tin Pan Alley standards, most famously her weaving together         
of "Body and Soul" and "Heart and Soul".                                                 
Carter is mentioned along with other jazz luminaries in Gang Starr's jazz rap "Jazz     
Thing." In 1999 she was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.