Friday, 23 August 2013
Wynona Carr born 23 August 1924
Wynona Carr (August 23, 1924 – May 12, 1976) was an African-American gospel, R&B and rock and roll singer-songwriter, who recorded as Sister Wynona Carr when performing gospel material.
Unless you are a big fan of the 1950s gospel sound chances are you will never have heard of Wynona Carr. But under different circumstances you certainly would know about her today - right up there with LaVern Baker, Brenda Lee, and Connie Frances who were just about the only female solo vocalists singing R&R to hold their own with the original male giants.
Born August 23, 1924 in Cleveland she was an accomplished pianist by the time she was 8 years old and when she turned 13 she was admitted to the Cleveland Music College where she studied voice, harmony, and musical arrangement. Before long she was being heard in Baptist churches around the region, and when she
turned 20 she moved to Detroit to assume the directorship of a church choir.
After later forming The Carr Singers, and while on tour in the late 1940s, Wynona came to the attention of J.W. Alexander of the gosel group The Pilgrim Travelers who, after arranging a demo recording, sent it to Art Rupe of Specialty Records. He signed her to a recording contract and in 1949 she cut the gospel tunes Each Day and Lord Jesus backed by a session combo which included pianist Austin McCoy. When released it immediately evoked comparisons to the already famed Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
The enterprising Rupe, in fact, soon changed her billing to Sister Wynona Carr in time for her next planned release. However, I'm A Pilgrim Traveler was a thinly-disguised gospel version of the old blues song St. James Infirmary, coupled with I Heard the News (Jesus Is Coming Again) which also borrowed heavily from the 1948 R&B hit Good Rockin' Tonight. Rupe chickened out at the last minute, deciding that both the similarity to R&B and Blues and her energetic delivery were too far ahead of their time for gospel lovers in 1949.
Carr, meanwhile, continued to tour and it wasn't until June or July of 1952 that she recorded The Ball Game which, in relating a confrontation between Jesus and Satan, became a huge gospel hit. By 1954, and now back in Detroit, she was the director of the choir at the New Bethel Baptist Church, presided over by the Reverend Cecil L. Franklin, father of the then 12-year-old and future super-star Aretha. She also performed publicly with Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight until, in 1957, she decided to try her hand at this new R&R craze sweeping the nation.
Still with Specialty, her first release, minus the "Sister", was the plaintive Should I Ever Love Again? b/w the jumping Till The Well Runs Dry. The A-side, I'm certain, would have registered high on the Billboard Pop Top 100 had she been able to promote the record through public appearances. But, just as the release was climbing the R&B charts in March [it peaked at # 15], she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. That effectively put her out of action until 1959 by which
time Specialty felt it was too late to make up lost ground.
She would later record briefly for Sinatra's Reprise label and then close out the 1960s back on the Cleveland night club circuit. In the 1970s her health deteriorated to the point where she avoided all public contact, and on May 12, 1976 she passed away at age 52. (Info from various sources)