Betty Carter was a vocalist with a style all her own and the determination to create and present the music as she heard it. Over the course of her career, she would not only solidify her place as one of America's great singers, but she was also a producer, record label founder, and perhaps most importantly, a mentor to other musicians.
Raised in Detroit, she studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory of Music at age 15, but would move on to concentrate on singing when she was 16. Carter is often considered one of the last singers of the big band era, having landed a gig with Lionel Hampton's Big Band in 1948. Their musical partnership is legendary...as it turned out, she was a little too free with her improvisations and clashed with Hampton more than once...he fired her seven times during their two and a half year run. Note that he hired her back six.
Carter was a master scat singer, patterning herself after Dizzy Gillespie. She eventually would play with musicians Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Wes Montgomery. She released her first album in 1955 with The Ray Bryant Trio. After being introduced to Ray Charles, the two made a self-titled album in 1961 that included the flirtatious hit single "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Over her forty year career, Carter recorded over twenty albums, finally receiving a Grammy Award in 1988 for Best Female Jazz Vocal Performance for the album "Look What I Got."
Her uncompromising commitment to her music led her to create her own record label, Bet-Car Records in 1969. In 1993, she founded the Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead Program in conjunction with The Kennedy Center, offering young players a unique opportunity to compose and perform under the tutelage of high-level professional musicians. She is credited with discovering musicians Mulgrew Miller, Benny Green, and Curtis Lundy among others. The Jazz Ahead programs continues today, under the direction of Jason Moran.