The Kennedy Center

Betty Carter


Betty Carter was born Lillie Mae Jones in Flint, Michigan, in 1930. She grew up in Detroit and as a teenager sang with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Max Roach, and other visiting musicians. She studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory of Music. She first gained attention by winning an amateur singing contest in 1946 and then working cabarets on Sunday afternoons. When she joined Lionel Hampton’s band in 1948, she was using the stage name Lorraine Carter. Hampton began calling her Betty Bebop, and she then became known as Betty Carter. In 1951 she went with Hampton’s band to New York, where she worked for the next two decades, appearing frequently at the Apollo Theatre. During a show with Miles Davis at the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, Davis introduced Ms. Carter to his agents. This led to performances with Ray Charles’s touring show from 1960 to 1963 and the classic album Ray Charles and Betty Carter, which included the hit duet “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and was a turning point in her career. Ms. Carter later traveled internationally to Japan, London, and France. She began to work with her own trio in 1969, which quickly became an important training ground for young musicians. Among the artists who have played in her trio are John Hicks, Dave Holland, Cecil McBee, Jack DeJohnette, Billy Hart, Stephen Scott, Mulgrew Miller, Benny Green, Cyrus Chestnut, Craig Handy, Jacky Terrasson, Lewis Nash, Kenny Washington, Greg Hutchinson, Clarence Penn, Buster Williams, and Michael Bowie. In 1971 she founded her own recording company, Bet-Car Productions, after recording with several labels during the 1950s and 60s. Her appearance in Howard Moore’s musical Don’t Call Me Man led to a number of club engagements. She continued to perform with her trio throughout the 1980s while also singing with string orchestras in New York and Boston. In 1988 she signed with Verve Records, where her discography includes Look What I’ve Got, Droppin’ Things, and Feed the Fire. Look What I’ve Got won a Grammy Award in 1988 and Droppin’ Things topped the Billboard jazz charts and was nominated for a Grammy in 1990. Prior to signing with Verve, she recorded The Audience with Betty Carter, which was also nominated for a Grammy. Ms. Carter has been named the Number 1 Female Jazz Singer on the Downbeat Critics and Readers’ Poll for the last several years. She performed at The White House for President Clinton in 1994 and was a headlining artist at Verve’s fiftieth- anniversary celebration at Carnegie Hall. Her recent international touring schedule has included performances in Bombay, India, and an unprecedented appearance at the fifth annual Beijing International Jazz Festival, China. Williams College presented her with an honorary Doctor of Music degree in June of 1997 and she also is a recipient of the American Jazz Masters Fellowship Award from the National Council on the Arts. On September 29, 1997, President Clinton presented the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest civilian arts award, to her. She is the founder of Jazz Ahead, an organization that encourages musicians in their teens and twenties.

Betty Carter last appeared at the Kennedy Center April 15-16, 1998, for Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead. She died September 26, 1998, at the age of 69.
Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead