Monday, September 2, 2013

Carline Ray (1925-2013)

Jazz guitarist, bassist, activist and vocalist passed away
 I never felt strange about being a woman in music. (Carline Ray)
Hans Koert

Last month US vocalist, bassist and guitar player Carline Ray passed away, 88 years young, her daughter Catherine Russell reported.  I met Catherine at an in-shop concert at The Drvkkery in Middelburg (The Netherlands) a few years ago and then she told me that her mother was still active in singing. I learned that Catherine Russell’s father was the well known band leader Luis Russell, but about her mother I didn't know more then that she had been part of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm for a few years. I love to honour this special woman.

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm with leader - vocalist Anna Mae Winburn and guitarist Carline Ray and bass player Edna smith somewhere at the back (photo: ca. 1946) ( source: Carline Ray Collection)

When I found the DVD The All Girl Bands “Accent On Girls”, released in 2005 by Storyville  Films (Denmark) in its series Jazz Legends, I found several shorts by the International Sweethearts of Rhythm featuring Carline Ray at the guitar in nine tracks.

Although its leader and vocalist Anna Mae Winburn draws attention from the camera, a young Carline Ray can be seen at the far left somewhere at the back of the band next to bassist Edna Smith.

Carline Ray - publicity photo (late 1940s) (source: Carline Ray Collection)

Carline Ray was born in New York City, April 1925. Her father played now and then in James Reese Europe’s band, which visited France during World War I.
Edna Smith
Carline sang and played the piano as a kid and joined the Juilliard School of Music at the age of 16. She came into contact with jazz thanks to a friend of her, Edna Smith, who also introduced her to the bass.  Ray’s first gig must have been a taxi dancehall date, somewhere in the early 1940s, when she was still a student at Juillard's. When she and Edna graduated they were offered a job in the then well known International Sweethearts of Rhythm; Edna on bass and Carline on guitar, but also as a vocalist now and then.  ...........She would continue to sing at an advanged age and she must have forwarded these skills to her daughter Catherine Russell, who started a solo carreer a few years ago after a long career in pop background choirs for great pop-artists like Paul Simon. David Bowie an the band Steely Dan.  

Carline Ray in actie ( waarschijnlijk jaren vijftig)

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm was originally founded to give the poor kids of Piney Woods, a school for poor and Afro American children, most were orphaned, a living …..  “It was a time when American thought it improper for women to make a sax wail or let loose hot licks on skins.” I found in the book Take-Off – American All-Girl Bands During WWII by Tonya Bolden “But the advent of World War II dispatched many men overseas, giving women the chance to finally strut their stuff on the bandstand.

Carline Ray ( detail of the The Internationale Sweethearts of Rhythm photo above ( ca. 1946)
All-girl bands, like the International Sweethearts of Rhythm kept moral high on the home front and on USO tours of military bases across the globe. At the same time, they helped to establish America’s distinguished legacy of jazz music”.
All-Girl bands, Damesorkesten in Dutch, like The International Sweethearts of Rhythm were extreme popularlate 1930s - early 1940s, not only in the States but also in Holland, where bands like Clara De Vries and her Jazzladies and saxophone players like Annie Van't Zelfde ( aka Annie The Same) draw full houses, until the nazis forbid to play this kind of Entartete Musik.

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm would develop into one of the most popular US All-Women bands of the 1940s, but when Carline Ray and Edna Smith joined, the popularity of the orchestra was over the hill. In 1948 the band was disbanded and Carline started in Erskine Hawkins Orchestra as a vocalist and guitarist playing at the so-called black theatre circuit.

Luis Russell with his daughter Catherine ( ca. 1958) (photo courtesy: Carline Ray collection)

During the 1950s Carline joined the Manhattan School of Music and graduated in 1956. In the 1950s she founded with Edna Smith and Pauline Braddy Williams a trio, which performed in New York clubs.  In one of the clubs, Luis Russell, the former band leader and Louis Armstrong’s musical director, was the manager …… Ray and Luis felt in love and married.  In 1956 Catherine was born.

Catherine Russell (photo courtesy: Hans Koert)

She started to play fender bass in bands like Skitch Henderson Big Band, where she was the only woman in the band, but she never felt that as something special …. I never felt strange about being a woman in music. I enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m all business. We’re musicians first. Ray became also an activist for women's liberation for equal rights. She played in all kinds of orchestras, too much to list here, but I love to mention her cooperation with Melba Liston ( Melba Liston and Company) and a concert with the All-Women band Aerial, featuring Ray at the 1979 Newport Jazz Festival. In those days she studied the acoustic bass at Major Holley's.

Carline and her daughter Catherine in duet ( photo courtesy: Joseph A. Rosen)

Carline Ray can be heard on dozens of record albums, made by great names like Red Richards en zangeres Ruth Brown, to list some, but she never made one by herself. 
Thanks to her 88th birthday, spring 2013,  her daughter Catherine Russell released Ray's debut's album Vocal Sides.  I hope to review this album later .... a debut album by a very special woman who loved to play her jazz music in a band with most  male artists ....  I enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m all business. We’re musicians first.

Carline Ray passed away 88 years old ( 1925-2013).

MY JAZZ LINKS: Carline Ray - Catherine Russell

Hans Koert
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Carline Ray started to play the guitar at the famous All-Girl band The International Sweethearts of Rhythm, but was also active as a bass player, a vocalist and champion for women rights. She passed away last month 88 years old. A few months ago she made her debut as a singer on the first album under her own name Vocal Sides, produced by her daughter, jazz vocalist Catherine Russell. Enjoy the story of this special woman: Carline Ray. 

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  1. Thank you, Hans, for this fascinating story and portrait of a great female artist.BTW: Why don't we have all-girly jazz bands any longer?


  2. We do now! Shake 'Em Up Jazz Band is made up of female star instrumentalists from New Orleans and Bria Skonberg occasionally organizes a big band size all female group for individual concerts to honor the Sweethearts of Rhythm.