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Carter, Betty (originally, Tones, Lillie Mae; aka Lorene Carter and “Bette Bebop”)

Carter, Betty (originally, Tones, Lillie Mae; aka Lorene Carter and “Bette Bebop”)

jazz singer; b. Flint, Mich., May 16, 1929; d. Brooklyn, N.Y., Sept. 26, 1998. Carter turned professional in 1946 after studying piano at the Detroit Cons. She began singing in local jazz clubs, sharing bills with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Dizzy Gillespie. Using the name Lorene Carter, she toured with Lionel Hampton (1948–51, first appearing on surviving Armed Forces Jubilee broadcasts with the Hamptones, a vocal trio, from October 1948 onward); Hampton dubbed her “Betty Bebop,” a name she was not happy with. Thereafter, she was known as Betty Carter. She also worked with Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and others. Her 1960 recorded duet with Ray Charles, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and tour with Charles helped to build her name, but the 1960s were mainly tough times for her. She lived in Newark from the late 1960s and formed a trio that became increasingly successful on college campuses in the 1970s. She had a great ear for talent and her trios over the years featured pianists John Hicks, Mulgrew Miller, Cyrus Chestnut, bassists Buster Williams, Dave Holland, drummers Jack Dejohnette, Lewis Nash, Eric Harland and many others. The distinctiveness and individuality of her albums and her refusal to compromise led to the inability to secure recording dates on major labels, and she issued and distributed her recordings from 1969 through the 1980s on her own Bet-Car label, including the Grammy- nominated The Audience with Betty Carter. Carter gained widespread acclaim at the Newport Jazz Festivals at Carnegie Hall (1977, 1978). A contract with Verve in the late 1980s gave her widespread exposure, as did an appearance on the Cosby Show and Saturday Night Live. Her first album on Verve, Look What I Got, was on Billboard’s Top Ten jazz albums in early 1989 and won a Grammy for Best Female Jazz Vocalist. In 1993 Carter founded Jazz Ahead, a music program that brings about 20 young musicians from across the country to N.Y. every year during spring break; it is capped by a weekend of concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 1996 Carter was invited by President Clinton to perform for him at a private party at the White House; that August she participated in the President’s satellite-linked birthday party, beamed into Radio City Music Hall from a stage in Washington, D.C. Carter also appeared in Verve’s 50th Anniversary celebration at Carnegie Hall. She holds an honorary doctorate from Williams Coll. and won the National Medal of Arts (1997). She succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1998.


Meet Betty Carter (1955); Social Call (1955); I Can’t Help It (1958); Out There (1958); Modern Sound of Betty Carter (1960); Ray Charles and Betty Carter (1961); Round Midnight (1962); Inside Betty Carter (1965); Finally, Betty Carter (1969); At the Village Vanguard (1970); Betty Carter, Vols. 1, 2 (1971); Betty Carter Album (1972); Now It’s My Turn (1976); What a Little Moonlight Can Do (1976); Audience with Betty Carter (1979); Whatever Happened to Love (1982); Jazzbuhne Berlin ’85 (1985); In the Mood for Swing (1987); Look What I Got (1988); Droppin’ Things (1990); It’s Not About the Melody (1992); Feed the Fire (1993); I’m Yours, You’re Mine (1996).


William R. Bauer, Betty Carter: A Bibliography and Style Analysis (CUNY, 1996).

—Lewis Porter

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