Vocalist Betty Carter, Atlanta, c. 1982.
Courtesy of Enid Farber Fotography.
Born May 16, 1930, in Flint, MI
Died September 26, 1998, in New York City
“It was very important in those days for a musician or a singer to become an individual,” Betty Carter once said. “You had to be yourself if you were going to succeed.” Born Lillie Mae Jones in 1930, the vocalist was an iconoclast from the start, earning the nickname Betty Bebop as a teenager for her insistence on scatting modern bop lines in Lionel Hampton’s more traditional swing band. The name Betty stuck, but the free-spirited vocalist would always refuse to be pigeonholed as anything but a musician. She came to national attention for her recordings with Ray Charles in 1961. “Hearing her sing ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’” former president Bill Clinton said, “makes you want to curl up in front of the fire, even in summertime.” But it was her transformative effect on jazz standards, her efforts “to always reach for something new” in a melody, that made her a favorite among musicians. In the 1970s, a time when her peers struggled to make a living playing jazz, she founded her own label, Bet-Car, and, as one of jazz’s leading talent scouts, eventually taught a new generation how to find their individual voices.
Listen to more music at NPR: