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Carmen McRae | Show Song List
(Show originally produced and aired in May 1985)
Carmen McRae Singer Carmen McRae was born April 8, 1920, to West Indian parents in Harlem. She studied piano as a young girl, but while her parents steered her toward classical music, Carmen found a way to sneek pop standards into her early repertoire.
After McRae -- like Ella Fitzgerald before her -- sang her way to victory at an Apollo Theater amateur talent contest in 1939. At the event, she was noticed by Irene Kitchings, wife of pianist Teddy Wilson, who worked with Billie Holiday. This led to Holiday recording McRae's song "Dream of Life," penned when Carmen was just 19.

A career in music loomed large for the young singer, but her parents had different ideas and demanded she get a job. McRae spent two years as a secretary in Washington D.C. She didn't miss a beat, getting an 18-month gig with the Mercer Ellington band in 1946.

Carmen moved back to New York and in the late 1940s became popular among jazz musicians at their favorite club: Minton's in Harlem. She was finally "discovered" in 1953, while performing at club in Brooklyn, by legendary Decca Records talent scout Milt Garber.

McRae released twelve albums in just five years for Decca -- they became essential recordings for lovers of jazz vocals. Through the 1960s and '70s, she recorded with Dave Brubeck's Royal Ambassadors and performed with Louis Armstrong, among many others.

Carmen McRae CD cover "God Bless the Child," Brubeck's "Take Five," and "I've Got You Under My Skin" became her signature tunes as she cultivated a large international fan base.
In January of 1994, Carmen received the Jazz Master Award by the National Endowment for the Arts. She was an expert of rhythm, deft phrasing, and personal, bittersweet ballads. Her enigmatic, dark contralto voice relied upon the ironic interpretation of lyrics that has placed her among the pantheon of female jazz singers.

After suffering a stroke in May 1991, hours after performing at the Blue Note in New York, she was forced to retire and remain bedridden until her death in 1994. Her friend and secretary, Jan March, recalled McRae saying in her dying days, "I don't want a memorial. I don't want a funeral. I don't want flowers. All I want to be remembered for is my music."

Song List for Carmen McRae on Piano Jazz
  • It's the Little Things That Mean So Much (Teddy Wilson)
  • Some Other Spring (I. Kitchings)
  • I'm Pulling Through (I. Kitchings, A. Herzog)
  • Sweet Loraine (C. Burwell/M. Parish)
  • I Never Felt This Way Before (Duke Ellington)
  • Portrait of Carmen McRae (Marian McPartland)
  • As Time Goes By (H. Hupfeld)
  • Blues in C (McPartland/McRae)
  • As Long As I Live (H. Arlen)
  • Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry (S. Cahn/J. Styne)
  • I Hadn't Anyone 'Till You (R. Noble)
  • Embracable You (G. Gershwin/I. Gershwin)
  • Old Devil Moon (E. Harburg/B. Lane)

    Related Links
  • Verve Music Carmen McRae page