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Carmen McRae

Carmen McRae always had a nice voice (if not on the impossible level of an Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan) but it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and ironic interpretations of lyrics that made her most memorable. She studied piano early on and had her first important job singing with Benny Carter's big band (1944), but it would be another decade before her career had really gained much momentum. McRae married and divorced Kenny Clarke in the '40s, worked with Count Basie (briefly) and Mercer Ellington (1946-1947), and became the intermission singer and pianist at several New York clubs. In 1954 she began to record as a leader' and by then she had absorbed the influences of Billie Holiday and bebop into her own style. McRae would record pretty steadily up to 1989 and, although her voice was higher in the '50s and her phrasing would be even more laid-back in later years, her general style and approach did not change much through the decades. Championed in the '50s by Ralph Gleason, McRae was fairly popular throughout her career. Among her most interesting recording projects were participating in Dave Brubeck's the Real Ambassadors with Louis Armstrong, cutting an album of live duets with Betty Carter, being accompanied by Dave Brubeck and George Shearing, and closing her career with brilliant tributes to Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan. Carmen McRae, who refused to quit smoking, was forced to retire in 1991 due to emphysema. She recorded for many labels including Bethlehem, Decca (1954-1958), Kapp, Columbia, Mainstream, Focus, Atlantic (1967-1970), Black Lion, Groove Merchant, Catalyst, Blue Note, Buddah, Concord, and Novus. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

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i do not think ella had a better voice than carmen.
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Treasure!
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spongebob364 1
Such a beautiful sultry voice.
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joseph65315
love to listen to Carmen especially when accompanied by cousin Joe
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cobban.barne t t
One ... of ... a ... kind ... period ....
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Her voice is beautiful
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serf911
Saying that Carmen McRae had a nice voice is a criminal act!
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Oh how we miss the good old days when people could get into your soul.
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camm171
Her rendition of Body and Soul.. simply delicious!
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The signature that Carmen put on a song, made her one the best singers of her era. I saw her once years ago on a lovely summer evening at an outdoor venue, just pure magic.
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know41self4
Carmen was at her best when performing live...I also remember a tribute to her by Dianne Reeves...sim p l y sectacular.
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Nina meets Ella... Loving it!
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I could listen to her alllllll day!!!!!!
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capitalteas
I LOVE CARMEN !! she is one of my favorites
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Sarah's voice and style... what gifts she was blessed with. Sarah, herself and her wonderful songs ... what gifts to us for all time.

Sassy is hard to categorize. She shines over and above and through all the categories populated by female vocalists.. Impossible to duplicate.
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GOOD!
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Her cover of Whatever Lola Wants is superb.
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keedeeg
What a Lovely voice!!!
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kodor
A nice voice! That's what I call an understateme n t if I ever heard one.
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jonthomasbil y
Sweet...
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bigblue91
Nice!!
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She is a top performer! (All time)
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She is wonderful and has become one of my favorite singers
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Angel Like Voice!
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Oh my goodness!.Oh my Carmen! xxxxxxxClass personified.
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Beautiful
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pascaduto
She was the best and the young set today should fall in love dancing to her beautiful and moving voice. Thank you for your gift and sharing it with the world.
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I'm surprised the author didn't compare her to Nina Simone.
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To say Carmen McRae had a nice voice is an insult to one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time. And to compare her to Ella, who was not a jazz singer is an injustice to them both. Shame on you, Scott Yanow.
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wonderful voice - and I love these stories y'all are posting
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It was my pleasure in 1971 to sit at a table next to the piano at Donte's in North Hollywood while Carmen sat and played and sang. Yes, her playing was superb also. At one point, she had to excuse herself while she fetched music from the pile at my feet. It has all been downhill for me since!!
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mooyoo.77
CARMEN, STAYED TRUE TO HER OWN VOICE.
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pgstamelman
Agree with Intersport: At the Great American Music Hall is Ms. McRae at her best. And dig Jimmy Rowles on The Ballad of Thelonious Monk.
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intersport7
by far carmen: the best torch singer of all time, and the best recording of her is from the 70's title is carmen at the great american music hall! needs to be added to pandora list.
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A real gem
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vmw1031
Another one of my all time favorites, saw her perform on a number of occasions and just loved her style.
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Class act all the way
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Love her singing, she, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald were talented ladies who had real class. Would love to see some of the female singers today go buy some class while their buying their luxury items, since many of them don't have any.
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jweiss56
I have always loved Carmen McRae's singing. So much feeling, such swing.
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mecenas
Together with Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday, they were unique. Carmen McRay one of the greatest voices in the jazz universe.
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Saw her in the late 80's, she just exuded style snd class. And what a voice,her interpretati o n s where fabulous.
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Love love love her!
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In the late 60's and early 70's I worked in a LA jazz club where Carmen frequently appeared. She was a fabulous lady on and off the stage. I feel I am so fortunate to have had that opportunity.
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slburnstein
Carmen's rendition of "Guess Who I Saw Today" still send shivers up and down my spine. Steve B
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Truly, there is no one like the incomparable Mrs. Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, and Dinah Washington in today's music idustry. What an era of musical greatness! We were indeed blessed to have witnessed their genius and I thank God that their music will live throughout eternity.
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I love Carmen I grew up listening to her and Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams Billy Eckstine, Nancy Wilson . I'm at my best when I hear them singing.
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christadowty
McRae died on November 10, 1994, in Beverly Hills, California from a stroke, following complication s from respiratory illness.
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All I can say is more and more ... wish all the good ones was still here.
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Carmen is one of my favorite singers of all times. Luckily I got to see her at the end of her career at the Blue Note in New York. I never get tired of listening to her.
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no one does monk better than mcrae -- except monk him highness self. she she does a nice when i'm sober billie, too!
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