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Sister Wynona Carr

Though largely unrecognized during her own lifetime, singer and composer Sister Wynona Carr was among the truly pioneering artists of gospel's golden era; while her music -- sophisticated and sensual, distinguished by lyrics of rare metaphorical depth and a progressive sound drawing heavily on jazz and blues -- was simply too radical for contemporary listeners, in hindsight she stands as one of the great innovators of her day. Born in Cleveland, OH, on August 23, 1924, Carr began learning piano at the age of eight; at 13, she entered the Cleveland Music College to study voice, harmony, and arranging, and a short time later began performing in Baptist churches across the region. In 1944, she relocated to Detroit to direct a local choir, and in the months to follow also formed her own group, the Carr Singers, to tour the Midwest and the South.

While touring with the Wilson Jubilee Singers, an offshoot of Cleveland's renowned Wings Over Jordan Choir, Carr caught the attention of the Pilgrim Travelers' J.W. Alexander, who was so impressed by her talents that he funded her first demo recording and sent it to Specialty Records founder Art Rupe. The label quickly snapped her up, and in early 1949 Carr traveled to Los Angeles to record her first session, backed by a jump combo helmed by ace session pianist Austin McCoy. Her debut 78, pairing the swinging "Each Day" with the torch-like ballad "Lord Jesus," served as an immediate indication of her versatility; produced in the vein of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's recordings of the era, Rupe sought to further emphasize the comparisons between the two vocalists by appending "Sister" to Carr's name, a ploy which reportedly made her bristle.

Carr's next studio date followed in Philadelphia later in 1949; a revolutionary session, it yielded "I'm a Pilgrim Traveler," a reworking of the blues standard "St. James Infirmary," as well as "I Heard the News (Jesus Is Coming Again)," which updated the 1948 Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris hit "Good Rockin' Tonight." Other material, like the Carr original "Our Father," suggested a strong jazz influence; however, while all of the tracks recorded during the session promised to push the singer into new stylistic directions, Rupe apparently felt the songs were all too daring, and none of them were released. Carr's next return to the studio, in 1950, was far more traditional, and included a new rendition of "Our Father," recorded as a duet with Brother Joe May; it too went unreleased, although the song was later covered as a May solo side as well as in a version by the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi.

Despite all of the frustration and setbacks, Carr forged on; she toured relentlessly, but did not go back into the studio until mid-1952. With "The Ball Game," a vividly metaphorical tale of a showdown between Jesus and Satan, she finally scored a major gospel hit, yet her career continued to flounder; another two years passed prior to her next Specialty session, recorded in Detroit (where she was serving as choir director at the New Bethel Baptist Church under Rev. C.L. Franklin). Although she recorded rarely, Carr nevertheless remained a highly prolific songwriter, composing poetic, topical material often inspired by headlines of the day; she cut dozens of demos for Specialty, and ironically enough earned more money from sales of her sheet music than from her actual recordings.

After successfully touring white nightclubs in 1954 with Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight, Carr finally broke her ties with gospel to pursue a career singing R&B; in 1957, she scored with the hit ballad "Should I Ever Love Again," but again fate was against her; at the same time the record was rising on the chart, she was stricken with tuberculosis, and spent the next two years on the sidelines, convalescing at her parents' home. A number of booking agencies sought Carr out, but she was simply too ill to perform; her career never recovered from the loss of momentum, and after leaving Specialty in 1959 she briefly signed to Reprise before spending the remainder of the 1960s performing on the Cleveland supper-club circuit. As the 1970s dawned, Carr went into seclusion; her health continued to decline, and she died on May 12, 1976. ~ Jason Ankeny
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: 42 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

1. Good RockinTonight

2. Shame On You

3. Moon Glow

4. Begin The Beguine

5. Lover Man (Oh, Where Can He Be?)

6. Panama

7. Straighten Up And Fly Right

8. Don't Get Around Much Anymore

9. Move It On Over

10. I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town

11. The Ball Game

12. Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?

13. Jackie Robinson

x

Track List: Le Gospel (1939-1952)

Disc 1

1. Rock My Soul

2. Downward Road

3. Prodigal Son

5. Give Me That Old Time Religion

8. The Storm Is Passing Over

9. Take Thy Burden To The Lord

10. Down Here, Lord, Waiting On You

11. All God's Chillun Got Shoes

12. Swing Low Sweet Chariot

13. Gospel Train

14. God Moves On The Water

15. Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho

18. I Saw The Light

19. God's Mighty Hand

22. O' Jesus, Let Me Ride

23. The Mighty Number

24. Jesus Is My Only Friend

Disc 2

2. How Far Am I From Canaan

3. Will He Welcome Me Here

4. I Know I've Been Changed

5. Stop Right Now

6. Calvary

7. Well, Well - Don't Worry About Me

8. Jesus Gave Me Water

9. I Love The Lord

10. I Want Jesus On The Road I Travel

11. Step By Step

12. Blood Done Signed My Name

13. Packing Every Burden

14. Get Right With God

15. Before This Time Another Year

18. My Rock

19. Since Jesus Came Into My Heart

20. Something Within Me

21. My Life Is In His Hands

22. Atlanta's Tragic Monday

23. Good Religion

24. Jesus Is Listening

Disc 3

1. Sin Is To Blame

2. Milky White Way

3. The Florida Storm

4. In The Upper Room Part I

5. In The Upper Room Part II

7. Show Me The Way

8. My Soul Is A Witness

10. Stand By Me

11. Don't Want To Go There

12. Building On The Good Shore

13. I'm A Pilgrim Traveler

14. That Great Judgement Day

15. How I Got Over

17. Get Right With God

18. Count Your Blessings

19. Great Day

20. Didn't It Rain

21. Jesus

22. The Tree Of Life

23. I'll Never Turn Back

24. Nobody's Fault But Mine

x

Track List: Nuggets Of The Golden Age Of Gospel 1945-1958

Disc 1

2. I'm Tramping

5. He Knows My Heart

8. Each Day

9. Lead Me To That Rock

11. Mother's Song

12. Jesus Is The Name

13. Same Train

14. Lord's Prayer

16. One Day

17. I'd Rather Serve Jesus

18. At The Cross

19. Lord's Gospel Train

20. Bedside Of A Neighbor

21. There Is Rest For The Weary

23. On The Highway

25. Jesus Be My Keeper

26. Walking In Jesus Name

Disc 2

1. Let Us Run

2. Come Over Here

5. No Matter How You Pray

7. Ship Of Zion

8. Jesus Bears The Cross

9. My God Is Real

11. Another Soldier Gone

12. Trouble In Mind

13. Toll The Bells

14. I Need Thee

15. There'll Be No More Sorrow

16. One Day When I Was Walking (I'm In His Care)

18. Angel

19. Lord Have Mercy

22. Cry Sometime

26. Old Time Religion

Disc 3

2. Our Prayer

5. Prayer For Tomorrow

6. Yes It's Me Lord, That Came To Thee

7. Who So Ever Will

8. Pilgrim Of Sorrow (Take 1)

10. He's Alright With Me

11. I Was So Happy

13. Lord, Will I Meet Them Again

14. I Want To Go To Heaven

15. Burying Ground

24. Come Home

Disc 4

1. I Can See So Much

2. Sit Down And Rest Awhile

3. Didn't It Rain

6. Glad To Be In The Number

7. Walk With Me

14. Roll, Jordan, Roll

15. Didn't It Rain

16. Rock My Soul

19. Hard To Get Along

20. Mother Bowed

23. When I Lay This Body Down

25. I Never Knew

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