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Sun, 01.15.1922

Thelma Carpenter, Singer, and Actress born

Thelma Carpenter

*Thelma Carpenter was born on this date in 1922.  She was a Black jazz singer and actress.  

She was born in Brooklyn, NY, the only child of Fred and Mary Carpenter, and attended Girls' Commercial High School.  As a child performer, Carpenter had her radio show on WNYC in New York and won an amateur night at the Apollo Theatre in 1938.  

She played such clubs as Kelly's Stables and the Famous Door on legendary 52nd Street, where John Hammond Jr discovered her. She made her debut as a band vocalist with Teddy Wilson's orchestra in 1939, recording "Love Grows on the White Oak Tree" and "This is the Moment" for Brunswick Records. 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.  

Carpenter's television appearances began as early as the 1940s (including Cavalcade of Stars with Jackie Gleason, Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town, "Floor Show."  She replaced Dinah Shore as vocalist on Eddie Cantor's radio show for the 1945–46 season, marking the first time a Black artist had become a permanent member of an all-white show without playing a character. She was a top nightclub attraction for most of her career, performing regularly at major theaters sang with Duke Ellington in concerts and on television. As a solo artist, she had a surprising chart hit in 1961, answering Elvis Presley with Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight.  

Broadway appearances include Memphis Bound with Bill Robinson, the 1952 revival of Shuffle Along, and the title role in Hello, Dolly!  She replaced Pearl Bailey more than 100 times and became the fully billed matinee star, with her name in all ads.  She created the role of Irene Paige in Bubbling Brown Sugar.  In the 1970s, Carpenter began an acting career and starred in the sitcom version of Barefoot in the Park, as well as several television movies and comedy shows.  and such feature films as The Cotton Club.  She was best known as "Miss One," the Good Witch of the North in The Wiz.  In 1993 she would be honored and perform on the all-star NBC-TV special "Apollo Theater Hall of Fame, hosted by Bill Cosby.  Thelma Carpenter suffered cardiac arrest and died in New York on May 14, 1997.   

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