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Carmen McRae: Not Billie, Not Ella, Not Sarah–But Just Great

Carmen McRae lacked the notoriety that several other female vocalists received. But she was one of the greats.

Here are two paragraphs of the very well written introduction to a McRae fan site. As a non-musician, I often find myself reacting to music, positively or negatively, without really knowing what the musician or musicians are trying to do. I like it or I don’t. This passage, particularly the second paragraph, does a nice job of explaining the strengths of three great vocalists — McRae, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald:

Eight years younger than her idol, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae was a contemporary of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Ella and Sarah were already well established by the time Carmen came onto the scene, but it wasn’t long before Carmen was considered their artistic equal, although she never achieved their wide popularity. She never had a huge hit nor did she ever receive a Grammy. But, on the other hand, she never made a bad record nor compromised her high standards.

Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan inspired awe with their vocal prowess. Ella – with her perfect pitch and unerring sense of time – could reproduce any instrumental jazz riff, and Sarah – with her multi-octave range and ultra-flexible voice – could change octave and color on a single note. Carmen, however, could bring a tear to the eye or a lump to the throat, with her reading of a lyric. That was her great talent. She combined the ability to project the emotional connotations of a song with a musical intelligence that was derived in part from her knowledge of the piano. (Continue Reading…)

The site is one of the most complete that I’ve run into since I began TDMB. Check it out. Above is “I’m Glad there is You,” which seems as if it would be a difficult song to sing. It is one of McRae’s signature songs. Below is the standard “That Old Black Magic.”

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