Carline Ray

Multi-instrumentalist Carline Ray started her jazz career as guitarist for the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and then went on to have a rich career performing and/or recording with the likes of Erskine Hawkins, Sy Oliver, Edna Smith, Skitch Henderson, the Duke Ellington band (in ’76, after Duke passed), Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston, Leonard Bernstein, Bobby Darrin, the American Ballet Theatre, Royal Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestras as a bassist. [1]

Her parents were both classically trained musicians, so it was no surprise that Carline would go on to be admitted to Julliard at age 16, receiving her B.S. degree in piano and composition in 1946, and then later receiving a MM in voice from the Manhattan School of Music. In 1956, Carline married bandleader and pianist, Louis Russell (worked with Louis Armstrong) and they had a daughter, Catherine Russell, who is a wonderful jazz singer. Unfortunately, Louis Russell passed away when Catherine was only seven years old, but Carlene kept working as a studio bassist and vocalist, also singing with choirs. She also studied bass with Major Holley in 1980. [2] Throughout her 70-some year career as a musician, she was also a mentor, teacher, and advocate for gender equality in jazz.

None of the sides recorded during her tenure with the Sweethearts were released and it is difficult to find recordings of her guitar or bass playing. Christopher Loudon writes in Jazztimes, “Regarding Ray’s scant catalog, Russell, 57, says, “Whenever I’d ask about that, she’d say, ‘Well, I just like to be a small part of a bigger thing.’ It was never her intention to take the lead, and she never really pursued it.”[3] So in 2008, Russell decided it was time for her mother to at last take center stage.” Under the musical direction of her daughter, Catherine, Carline recorded an excellent vocal album called “Vocal Sides” which was released just before she passed away in 2013 at age 88. (Listen Here) One of my favorite tracks on this album was Mary Lou Williams’ “Lazarus,” which she also sang on Williams’ 1969-72 album, “Mary Lou’s Mass:”

Loudon of jazztimes writes, “Though Vocal Sides serves as a dazzling coda to Ray’s richly variegated career, she will be equally remembered for her fervent championing of women in jazz. But, stresses Russell, “What she’s always really advocated is equality in jazz. My mother believes that ‘I’m a musician first and I just happen to be female.” [3]

What a wonderful human being! I wish there were more recordings of her guitar/bass playing!

(Re)sources

[1] “Carline Ray.” Women in Jazz South Florida. (http://wijsf.com/jazzwomen/carlineray.htm).

[2] Hans Koert. “Carline Ray (1925-2013).” Keep it Swinging. (http://keepitswinging.blogspot.com/2013/09/carline-ray-1925-2013.html).

[3] Christopher Loudon. “Carline Ray: This Needs to be Done.” JazzTimes. https://jazztimes.com/features/carline-ray-this-needs-to-be-done/

D. Antoinette Handy. Black Women in American Bands & Orchestras. Meutchen: Scarecrow Press, 1981. 

Terry Gross. “Carline Ray: A Pioneer For Women In Jazz Dies At 88.” NPR. (https://www.npr.org/2013/07/23/204814753/carline-ray-a-pioneer-for-women-in-jazz-dies-at-88).

Robert Moore. “The Legends: Carline Ray.” She Shreds Magazine. February 2, 2017. (http://sheshredsmag.com/the-legends-carline-ray/).


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