Betty Carter developed a legendary reputation, along with Art Blakey, as one of the great mentors for young jazz musicians. Equally legendary was her singing prowess, creating a distinctive style of improvisation that could transcend any song. Carter studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory, a skill that served her well later in her career in writing original songs. Growing up in Detroit, she was exposed to numerous jazz greats who passed through town, even getting a golden opportunity as a teenager to sit in with Charlie Parker. Carter’s big break came in 1948, when she was asked to join the Lionel Hampton band. Developing her vocal improvisations during the three years with the band led to her singular singing style. Hampton, impressed with her saxophone-like improvisatory vocals, dubbed her “Betty Bebop.” After leaving Hampton’s band, she worked variously with such greats as Miles Davis, Ray Charles, and Sonny Rollins before creating her own band. Carter’s bands served a dual purpose: to create her own great music and to help young musicians develop their craft. Many of the musicians who passed through her groups went on to lead their own groups, such as Geri Allen, Stephen Scott, Don Braden, and Christian McBride.

I Can’t Help It

New All The Time

 But Then She’s Betty Carter