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Format: Audio CD
Unless you are a fan of 1950s Gospel chances are you may not have heard of Wynona Carr. But under different circumstances you certainly would know about her today - right up there with LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, Etta James, Brenda Lee and Connie Frances who were just about the only female vocalists to hold their own with the original male giants of R&R.
Born August 23, 1924 in Cleveland, and an accomplished pianist by the time she was 8, she was admitted to the Cleveland Music College at age 13 to study voice, harmony, and musical arrangement. Before long she was being heard in local Baptist churches and after turning 20 she moved to Detroit to assume the directorship of a church choir. After forming The Carr Singers, and while on tour in the late 1940s, Wynona came to the attention of J.W. Alexander of The Pilgrim Travelers who, after arranging a demo recording, sent it to Art Rupe of Specialty Records. He signed her and from 1949 to 1953 released the 10 non-secular discs listed in the Comments below, with the billing changed to Sister Wynona Carr after the initial release evoked comparisons to the already famed Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Among the Gospel sides recorded were I'm A Pilgrim Traveler, a thinly-disguised non-secular version of the old Blues standard St. James Infirmary, and I Heard The News (Jesus Is Coming Again), which borrowed heavily from the 1948 R&B hit Good Rockin' Tonight. However, they were never released as Rupe decided that both the similarity to R&B and Blues and her energetic delivery were much too far ahead of their time for the Gospel audience of 1949/50. In 1954 she became choir director at Detroit's 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 1956, she decided to try her hand at this new R&R craze sweeping the nation.
Still with Specialty, her first release in 1956, minus the "Sister" and backed by the Bumps Blackwell orchestra, was Nursery Rhyme Rock/Please Mr. Jailer on Specialty 575, followed by Jump Jack Jump/Hurt Me on Specialty 580. None charted nationally, but all did well on a regional basis. Then, in late 1956 she released the plaintive Should I Ever Love Again? which became her only nationally-charting side when it peaked at # 15 R&B in March 1957 b/w the jumping Till The Well Runs Dry on Specialty 589. That 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 she was diagnosed with tuberculosis which effectively curtailed all touring until 1959 - although there would be more singles released as indicated in the Comments below (an asterisk (*) preceding those included here). By that time, however, Specialty felt it was too late to make up lost ground, especially with the developing changes in music at that time.
She would later record briefly for Sinatra's Reprise label, including an album (see the Comments) and then close out the 1960s back on the Cleveland night club circuit. However, 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. A victim of the fickle finger of fate.
This 1994 release from Specialty, tracks 1 to 6 and 8 to 15 of which first appeared in the 1974 vinyl album of the same name (Specialty LP SPS-2157) has excellent sound reproduction and interesting and informative liner notes written by Billy Vera.