Carmen McRae

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Carmen McRae (1980)

Carmen Mercedes McRae (born April 8, 1920 in Harlem , NYC , † November 10, 1994 in Beverly Hills , California ) was an American jazz singer.


Carmen McRae took private piano lessons and began writing her own songs at a very early age. She won an amateur competition at New York's Apollo Theater . One of their songs, "Dream of Life", came into the hands of Billie Holiday through Teddy Wilson , who recorded it in the early 1940s. McRae worked as a demo singer for Wilson's former wife Irene Kitchings , who sold her songs to agencies like the later jazz standard "Some Other Spring". She later said of her idol: "If Billie Holiday hadn't existed, I probably wouldn't have existed either".

In 1946 McRae married the drummer Kenny Clarke (they divorced in 1949). Also in 1946 she had her first vocal appearances with Benny Carter and Count Basie , then in the short-lived band of Mercer Ellington . She worked as a break singer and pianist in various Chicago and then New York jazz clubs, including Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, and worked as a typist before she was discovered by Milt Gabler for Decca Records in 1953 , where she made her first own in 1954 Recorded records as a singer. In 1956 she married the bassist Ike Isaacs , who she a. a. also accompanied on her Newport appearance in 1957. In the mid-1950s, several albums were made for the small label Bethlehem . a. Tony Scott , Herbie Mann and accordionist Mat Mathews performed ( By Request ). Her productions for Decca followed ; in the album Boys Meets Girl (1957) she sang duets with Sammy Davis, Jr .; in Mad About the Man (1957) she interpreted songs by Noël Coward and on the album Birds of a Feather arranged by Ralph Burns she was accompanied by Ben Webster and Mundell Lowe .

In the summer of 1961, her best album was created, her tribute to her idol Lady Day , Carmen McRae Sings Lover Man and Other Billie Holiday Classics on Columbia Records , on which she a. a. was accompanied by Nat Adderley , Eddie Lockjaw Davis and Mundell Lowe . In the 1960s she remained true to her style - as one of the few jazz-oriented singers - even when she integrated newer song material by Billy Joel , Lennon / McCartney , Stevie Wonder or Michel Legrand . She appeared both as a nightclub singer and at concerts and festivals, including the Monterey Jazz Festival , the World Jazz Festival in Japan (1964) and the 1968 Berkeley Jazz Festival . In 1987 she appeared together with Betty Carter ( The Carmen McRae - Betty Carter Duets ).

McRae, a heavy smoker, retired from show business in 1991 due to emphysema .

Musical meaning

The singer, highly regarded by her colleagues, has always been in the shadow of the three greats Sarah Vaughan , Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald . Fitzgerald said about the rank of Carmen McRaes: “What a madhouse the jazz and show business is sometimes! If it were only down to talent, a thousand wonderful things must have happened to her ”. "She can sing anything, everything," she praised Anita O'Day ; for Dionne Warwick she was "an institution, a wonderful singer and interpreter".

Author Will Friedwald , in his book Swinging Voices of America, paid tribute to the singer : “Her sharp, sometimes acrid tone approaches that of Billie Holiday; her way of altering melody lines is strongly related to the Vaughan / Eckstine school, and the knowledge of harmonic practice, as opposed to the theory necessary to paraphrase lines as confidently as McRae does, goes well beyond the level of average scat -Singers out. "

Discography (selection)

Solo albums

Recordings with other artists

  • 1961: Take Five at Basin Street East (Columbia CS-9116) with the Dave Brubeck Band
  • 1980: Two For The Road (Concord VICJ-23825) with George Shearing
  • 1988: The Carmen McRae — Betty Carter Duets (Great American Music Hall GAMH-2706) with Betty Carter

Participation in recordings by other artists


  • Leonard Feather , Ira Gitler : The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford University Press, Oxford et al. 1999, ISBN 0-19-532000-X .
  • Will Friedwald: Swinging Voices of America - A Compendium of Great Voices . Hannibal, St. Andrä-WIERT, 1992. ISBN 3-85445-075-3
  • Will Friedwald: liner notes for Carmen McRae Songs Lover Man (Columbia)
  • Martin Kunzler : Jazz Lexicon . Reinbek, Rowohlt, 1993

Web links

Commons : Carmen McRae  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Obituary in the New York Times
  2. cit. after Will Friedwald
  3. Your regular "working band" consisted of the pianist and musical director Norman Simmons , the bassist Bob Cranshaw and the drummer Walter Perkins ; see. Friedwald.
  4. All quotes from colleagues from Martin Kunzler, p. 782.
  5. Quoted from W. Friedwald, p. 269.