Pioneering musician Carline Ray died July 18 at age 88. In the 1940s, when it was difficult for women to be accepted as jazz musicians, Ray found a home in the all-female band The International Sweethearts of Rhythm as the guitarist and a featured vocalist. She was also a bass player who performed with Sy Oliver, Mercer Ellington and Mary Lou Williams.
Ray was born in Harlem in 1925 during the Harlem Renaissance. She graduated from Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. Her husband, Luis Russell, led his own band and worked as Louis Armstrong’s music director.
Ray’s daughter, Catherine Russell, is an acclaimed jazz singer. When Fresh Air recorded a concert and interview with Russell last year, she talked about her mother.
“She wanted to play, and she was inspired by all the jazz on 52nd Street and hearing Billie Holiday live,” Russell told host Terry Gross.
Catherine Russell produced a new album of her mother singing — between 2008 and 2011, when the collection was recorded, she still had a rich contralto voice — which was released just before Ray died.