Thelma Carpenter (January 15, 1922 – May 14, 1997) was a jazz singer and actress, best known as "Miss One", the Good Witch of the North in the movie The Wiz.
As a child, the Harlem-born Thelma sang in the streets for coins, and appeared on Major Bowes' Original Amateur Hour, a hugely popular radio series that also gave Frank Sinatra his first break. At 15 she entered another amateur contest, at the Apollo Theatre in New York, where her singing of "Stormy Weather" won her a week's booking.
In 1939 the superb pianist Teddy Wilson, shortly after leaving Benny Goodman, formed his own big band, and invited Carpenter to provide the vocals. Boasting such musicians as Ben Webster, J.C. Heard and Doc Cheatham, the band set an awesome standard of musicianship, but lasted only a year. Wilson next made a magnificent series of small-group recordings, featuring, among others, Carpenter and her friend Billie Holiday.
She joined Coleman Hawkins' orchestra in 1940, with whom she made the RCA Bluebird Records classic "He's Funny That Way". She followed Helen Humes as Count Basie's vocalist in 1943, remaining with the band for two years, recording the Columbia Records hit "I Didn't Know About You" as well as many popular V-disc sides including "Do Nothing till You Hear from Me", "More Than You Know", "I Dream of You", "Tess's Torch Song" and "My Ideal". She also made a V-disc version of Frank Loesser's "The Last Thing I Want Is Your Pity".
She replaced Dinah Shore as vocalist on Eddie Cantor's radio show for the 1945-46 season, marking the first time that a black artist had become a permanent member of an all-white show without playing a character.
Her cabaret success led to a role in the Broadway musical Memphis Bound (1945), which starred Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. A re-setting of HMS Pinafore on a Mississippi showboat, it was scuttled after 36 performances. Far more successful (it ran a year) was the Arthur Schwartz / Howard Dietz revue Inside USA (1948), which co-starred Beatrice Lillie and Jack Haley. An ill-advised revival of the 1921 show Shuffle Along (1952) lasted only four performances, but the rowdy musical Ankles Aweigh (1955) managed 22 weeks.
She was a top nightclub attraction for most of her career, performing regularly at such chic clubs as Le Ruban Bleu, Spivy's Roof, the Bon Soir, the St. Regis Maisonette, and Michael's Pub, as well as Chez Bricktop in Paris and RomeShe headlined major theatres including the Capitol Theatre, Loew's State Theatre (New York City), the Strand, and the Palace Theatre on Broadway and sang with Duke Ellington in concerts and on television. As a solo artist, she recorded for Majestic Records, Musicraft Records, Columbia Records, RCA Victor Records, and Coral Records.
By 1967 Hello, Dolly! had been running on Broadway for three years, and was playing to ever-diminishing audiences. David Merrick, the show's producer, decided to present an all-black version, starring Pearl Bailey and Cab Calloway, with Carpenter hired as Bailey's standby. Suddenly, Dolly! was a hit all over again, but, as Bailey tended to miss a great many performances, Carpenter played the role of Dolly Levi more than 100 times.Her last major singing performance was on the 1993 all-star NBC special, "Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame."
The long-running Bubbling Brown Sugar (1976) was her favourite show, as it commemorated a place and time she knew well: Harlem between the First and Second World Wars. At the age of 58 Carpenter finally made her motion picture debut in The Wiz (1978), the all-black remake of The Wizard of Oz, based on the hit Broadway show.
She also appeared in Francis Ford Coppola's film The Cotton Club (1984), and on television in The Ed Sullivan Show, The Cosby Show and The Love Boat. She played the meddling mother-in-law in Barefoot in the Park (1970- 71), an all-black situation comedy based on Neil Simon's play. She also toured in the musical Pippin.
Carpenter suffered cardiac arrest and died in New York on May 14, 1997. (Info compiled and edited from an article by Dick Vosburgh for The Independent & Wikipedia)
Here's a clip from 1964, NYC, Carnegie Hall, "Salute to Eddie Condon".for WABC-TV, 65/3/27; Wingy Manone (t,v) Billy Butterfield (t) Wild Bill Davison (c) Edmond Hall (cl) Vic Dickenson, Cutty Cutshall (tb) Willie "the Lion" Smith, Hank Duncan (p) Al Hall (b) George Wettling (d) Thelma Carpenter (v)