Singer Carmen McRae is remembered in this KCSM Pledge special. Carmen was born in Harlem, spent long periods in New York and Chicago, and performed internationally. Her early upbringing wasn’t easy. She was an original talent and acquired fame in the volatile jazz years of 1940 to 1960, mixing in the art with the likes of Ellington, Basie, Shearing, Gillespie, and Armstrong, to mention more famous ones.
By her own word Carmen’s most formative artist was Billie Holiday. They met in 1937, Carmen in teens, just at the start of performing and Billie in 20’s, and by then into 8 years of show business. Billie was an even more original singer, changing music for the nation’s jazz listeners, and Carmen took off from Billie’s style. Billie was so inspiring that Carmen almost always included something of Billie’s work in a performance.
Carmen’s signature “behind-the-beat” singing style and ironic interpretations of lyrics made her influential. When you listen to her tracks you hear her straight-ahead American singing, despite her Costa Rican/ Jamaican parentage.
Listen Saturday afternoon 2-6 pm, Jan 31 for the Carmen McRae Tribute with Mel & Dick on KCSM.