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 Fuller Up, The Dead Musician Directory
 
Lillie Mae Jones
Betty Carter
  September 26,1998
Age 68
Pancreatic Cancer 
 
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OBITUARY 
        
  Betty Carter Dies Singer Extraordinaire

By Martin Weil 
Washington Post Staff Writer 
 

Betty Carter, 68, one of the great jazz singers, a link with the legends of an  earlier age and an indomitable performer who was dedicated to creating  her own improvisational style and to training the young, died of pancreatic cancer Sept. 26 at her home in New York. 

Miss Carter was a native of Flint, Mich., and she was only 16 when she sang with Charlie Parker in a Detroit club. She performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis and toured with Lionel Hampton. In all, she made more than 30 albums, but she was reluctant to rest on laurels. 

"I don't have time for that," she told an interviewer a few years ago. "I want  to keep going forward." Still charming audiences well into her sixties, Miss Carter received a National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton at the White House last year. 

"Hearing her sing 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' makes you want to curl up in front of the fire, even in summertime," the president said, in a reference to her classic 1960 duet with Ray Charles. 

Miss Carter, whose parents named her Lillie Mae Jones, grew up in  Detroit, where her father led a church choir. From childhood, she said, "I was never interested in anything besides music." 

She studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory and was said to have falsified her age to gain admission to the club where she sang with Parker. 

Her voice won her a place with Lionel Hampton's band and some tense times. She was drawn to the scat-singing, fast-tempo genre of bebop, for which he had little use. As the story goes, Hampton fired her seven times in 2 1/2 years. (Hampton's wife, entranced with her contralto, kept bringing her back.) 

At the time, she called herself Lillie Carter. Hampton dubbed her Betty Bebop; ultimately she dropped the last name and kept the first. 

Despite her constant desire to improve, and possibly because of her refusal to imitate popular styles, the 1950s and '60s were difficult. 

In relative obscurity, she kept on; work with Ray Charles provided a bright spot. "I never tried to do anything else," she said. "I was never on welfare.  I never quit." 

When it finally came, recognition was prompted in part by the energy and enthusiasm she showed at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1977 and 1978.  She won a Grammy in 1988. 

She came to the Kennedy Center this year with young musicians she sponsored in the Jazz Alive program. 

"I am not going to live forever," she once said. "I don't want it to die with me. I want it to keep on." 

 
The Music Never Stops - A Tribute to Betty Carter

                  7-02-99 

                  By Clarence Atkins  

                  651 Arts, an institutional affiliate of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Majestic Theatre, recently paid tribute to renown jazz artist/innovator/educator Betty Carter. The event featured members of her former back-up groups, young artists nurtured through the annual performances project which she initiated as Artist-in-Residence at 651, "Jazz Ahead," and the George Faison Dance Company. 

                  Executive Director Maurine D./ Knighton expressed the tremendous pride of 651 as well as the Brooklyn community in mounting this tribute to the late artist for, in her words "…jazz fans around the world suffered a significant loss and, those of us in Brooklyn felt especially devastated" by her demise. "This very special performance honors her artistry and the popular ‘Jazz Ahead’ programs she co-created with 651 to bring the jazz world a new generation of musicians," she added. 

                  The evening’s outstanding and fast-moving production showcased the music of artists who had formerly played with Ms. Carter: Musical Directors and emcees Geri Allen and Jack DeJohnette, and special guests Don Braden on tenor sax, bassists Dave Holland and Curtis Lundy.  Among the "Jazz Ahead" alumni appearing were the Reed Sisters—Brandi, Tanya and Brittany, from Milwaukee as vocalists—violinists Miri Ben-Ari of Israel and Anand Bennett, Caribbean-born and LaGuardia High School graduate Casey Benjamin on alto sax, fine young trumpeter James Gibbs, III, bassists Carlos Henderson and Vashon Johnson, trombonist Andre Hayward, pianist Brandon McCune, and drummers Karriem Riggins and Nathan Smith. 

                  The aforementioned young artists were among more than 80 others (aged 17 to 28) recruited from throughout the nation and brought to New York each year to be coached and rehearsed by Ms. Carter for the annual "Jazz Ahead" performances. Over the four years of its existence, their shows, which featured original compositions of the young artists, utilized venues at The Majestic, Harlem’s Apollo Theatre and was most recently replicated at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Betty’s determination to connect younger audiences to the meaning and spirit of jazz prompted Peter Watrous of the New York Times to rank the concerts as "some of the most exciting performances of the year." 

                  The George W. Faison Dance Company’s work, "Sound," which electrified the audience, was commissioned by William Cosby and initially choreographed by Mr. Faison for its world premiere at the Jazz Festival in Aix en Provence, France. The music for the opus was Betty Carter’s composition "Sounds" (recognizable as her rendition of "Movin’ On"). 

                  As one who enjoyed a close and rewarding friendship with "The Lady" of more than forty years, it was a blessing to be in attendance at this tribute which embodies so much that was of value and consequence in her life. Copious plaudits and kudos for the program are due her friend and Manager Ora Harris who served as Artistic Advisor; Jazz educator-journalist-broadcaster Willard Jenkins as Project Coordinator, lighting/set designer Darrell Shines, The Juilliard School Dance Department and 651 Arts, Brooklyn’s premier African American performing arts presenter. 

                                                  Send your comments and suggestions to:  editors@tbwt.com .

 
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BIOGRAPHY

 Betty Carter  

(b. Lillie Mae Jones, 16 May 1930, Flint, Michigan, USA).   

Growing up in Detroit, Carter sang with touring jazzmen, including Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In her late teens, she joined Lionel Hampton, using the stage name Lorraine Carter. With Hampton she enjoyed a love-hate relationship; he would regularly fire her only to have his wife and business manager, Gladys Hampton, re-hire her immediately. Carter's predilection for bop earned from  Hampton the mildly disparaging nickname of Bebop Betty, by which name she became known thereafter.   

In the early '50s she worked on the edge of the R&B scene, sharing stages with blues artists of the calibre of Muddy Waters. Throughout the remainder of the '50s and into the '60s she worked mostly in and around New York City, establishing a reputation as a fiercely independent and dedicated jazz singer. She took time out for tours with packages headlined by Ray Charles (with whom she recorded a highly-regarded album of duets), but preferred to concentrate on her own shows and club performances.  

She also found time for marriage and a family. Her insistence upon certain standards in her recording sessions led eventually to the formation of her own record company,Bet-Car. During the '80s, Carter continued to perform in clubs in New York and London, occasionally working with large orchestras but customarily with a regular trio of piano, bass and drums, the ideal setting for her spectacular improvisations. Taking her inspiration from instrumentalists like Parker and Sonny Rollins rather than from other singers, Carter's technique draws little from the vocal tradition in jazz.  Her kinship with the blues is never far from the surface, however complex and contemporary that surface might be.  In performance, Carter tends to employ the lower register of her wide range.   

Always aurally witty and frequently displaying scant regard for the lyrics of the songs she sings, Carter's inventiveness is ably displayed on such performances as Sounds, a vocalese excursion which, in one recorded form, lasts for more than 25 minutes. Despite such extraordinary performances and the breakneck tempos she employs on The Trolley Song and My Favorite Things, she can sing ballads  
with uncloying tenderness. In concert, Carter dominates the stage, pacing like a tigress from side to side and delivering her material with devastating attack. The authority with which she stamps her performances, especially in vocalese and the boppish side of her repertoire, helps make unchallengable her position as the major jazz singer of the '80s and early '90s. It also helps support her assertion that she sees no one waiting in the wings to challenge her superiority.   

MUSIC CENTRAL '96 

  
 
 
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