April 8, 1920, she was the only child of Oscar and Evadne McRae
New York, USA
November 10, 1994 in Los Angeles
She took private piano lessons when she was 8 years old and began writing songs in her late teens. One of her notable gigs as a pianist was at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem. It was there where she was introduced to singer Billie Holiday (one of her influences) by songwriter Irene Kitchings Wilson. As a vocalist, Carmen honed her skill by singing for various bands namely: Benny Carter's orchestra (1944), bands led by Count Basie and Earl Hines (1944 to 1946) and Mercer Ellington's band (1946 to 1947).
Rise to Fame:
In 1954, she made her first recording as a lead. That same year Down Beat Magazine hailed her as the best new female vocalist of the year, she also shared Metronome magazine's Singer of the Year award with Ella Fitzgerald. Carmen was eventually discovered and signed by Decca Records in 1955.
Throughout the course of her fruitful career, Carmen McRae recorded over 60 albums, these include:
- Carmen McRae (1954)
- By Special Request (1955)
- Torchy (1955)
- Blue Moon (1956)
- After Glow (1957)
- Book of Ballads (1958)
- Something to Swing About (1959)
- At The Great American Music Hall (1976)
- You're Lookin' at Me (1983)
- Any Old Time (1987)
- Duets, Carmen McRae-Betty Carter (1988)
- Carmen Sings Monk (1990)
Her many hits include "Alfie," "Blame It On My Youth," "Guess Who I Saw Today?", "Mean to Me," "Skyliner," "Suppertime," "Take Five," "The Music That Makes Me Dance," "Yardbird Suite," "Yesterdays" and "You Took Advantage of Me."
- 1993: N.A.A.C.P. (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) award
- 1994: Jazz Fellowship award for lifetime achievement from the National Endowment for the Arts
- Aside from recording over 60 albums under various labels, Carmen also toured, guested on radio shows and appeared on tv shows and film. Her movies include "The Square Jungle," "Hotel" and "Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling."
- One of the earliest songs she wrote, "Dream of Life," was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939.
- Carmen was also friends with other notable names in jazz such as Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole.
- Carmen was married twice; first to Kenny Clarke and then to Ike Isaacs.
- When her longtime friend Sarah Vaughan died in 1990, Carmen honored her by recording a song titled "Sarah."