Jazz Masters
Sunday August 31, 2014

Betty Carter
May 16, 1929 –September 26, 1998

Lillie Mae Jones was her birth name when she was born in Flint Michigan, growing up in the “Motor City” (Detroit). She studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory at age 15.

By the time Lionel Hampton asked her to join his band she was already becoming a popular singer with an amazing penchant for scat singing and innovative vocal improvising. Hampton loved her perfect voice and charming personality, but over the course of two and a half years he had fired her seven times, largely due to her fierce independence and his objection to “too much improvising” during his tightly scripted show.

Miles Davis recommended Ms. Carter to team up with Ray Charles which resulted in a joint touring schedule, with many duets, to include the classic “Baby I’m Cold Outside”.

President Bill Clinton presented Ms. Carter with a National medal Of Arts award in 1997 when he explained to her and the audience “hearing her sing “baby its Cold outside” makes you want to curl up in front of a fire even in the summertime”. After fifteen years in the business she was finally becoming a household name.

Refusing to sing and record “Pop” tunes, she avoided recording from 1961 – 1968 and being a fiercely independent Woman she created her own record label Bet-Car Records which became the sole recording source of her music for the next eighteen years. This period has been known to be her finest recording years both musically and commercially.

Baltimore’s own Cyrus Chestnut quotes Carter as saying “Jazz is about finding who YOU are”. He met Ms. Carter at the Berkley School of Music. After attending her master class at Berkeley, he was asked to accompany her unexpectedly. She called for “Body & Soul” which he knew (but not in the key of G) Betty was in G and Cyrus was in C and he fought through it and apologized but the usually intimidating Betty Carter complimented him and so did his classmates. It was embarrassing for Cyrus but the lesson was to convert nervousness and insecurity into focus and performing your best effort. Cyrus later toured with Carter for two years beginning in 1991 as her pianist in the Betty Carter Trio.

Throughout her career, Ms. Carter performed with Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Max Roach,Ray Bryant, Sonny Rollins, King Pleasure and an endless list of sidemen. She remained active performing and developing new musicians through the Jazz Ahead program which was founded in 1993. She continued to stay active right up until her death from pancreatic cancer on September 26th 1998.


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