McRae, Carmen

Alternative names
Birth 1922-04-08
Death 1994-11-10

Biographical notes:

Biographical Note

Carmen Mercedes McRae was born in Harlem, on April 8, 1920. She studied piano as a child and her parents encouraged her towards classical music. As a teenager, McRae wrote songs and pursued the jazz scene in New York City leading to a friendship with jazz pianist Teddy Wilson and composer Irene Kitchings Wilson. Through their influence, one of McRae’s early songs, "Dream of Life," was recorded by Teddy Wilson’s longtime collaborator, vocalist Billie Holiday. Inspired by Holiday’s depth of emotion and delivery of a lyric, McRae began to develop her own style and voice.

By the late 1940s, McRae was well-known among the young modern jazz musicians who gathered at Minton’s, Harlem’s most famous inside after-hours jazz club. This lead to recordings with Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Mercer Ellington and others. The turning point in her career happened in 1954 when she made her first recording as a lead with Carmen McRae . She earned Down Beat magazine’s “Best New Female Jazz Vocalist of the Year.” McRae soon began recording with such major recording labels as Decca, MCA, Vocalion, and Verve. She recorded over sixty albums, toured the world, was heard on radio programs, and appeared on television and in films. McRae continued to perform until the age of seventy-one. Her final performance was at the Blue Note Jazz Club in New York. McRae died in Los Angeles on November 10, 1994.

From the guide to the Carmen McRae Collection of Musical Arrangements and Other Materials, 1931-1993, (bulk 1950s-1970s), (Music Division Library of Congress)


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Ark ID:


  • Jazz--Lead sheets
  • Jazz
  • Jazz vocals
  • Popular music--United States
  • Music--Manuscripts--United States
  • Women jazz singers--United States
  • Jazz singers


  • Singers


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