Carmen Mercedes McRae (April 8, 1920 ? November 10, 1994) was an American jazz singer, composer, pianist, and actress. Considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th Century, it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and her ironic interpretations of song lyrics that made her memorable. McRae drew inspiration from Billie Holiday, but established her own distinctive voice. She went on to record over 60 albums during her career, and enjoying a rich musical career, performing and recording in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
McRae was born in Harlem, New York City on April 8, 1920, to West Indian (Jamaican) parents, Osmond and Evadne McRae. She began studying piano when she was eight, and the music of jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington filled her home. She met singer Billie Holiday when she was just 17 years old. As a teenager McRae came to the attention of Teddy Wilson and his wife, the composer Irene Kitchings Wilson. One of McRae's early songs, "Dream of Life" through their influence, was recorded in 1939 by Wilson?s longtime collaborator Billie Holiday. McRae considered Holiday to be her primary influence. In her late teens and early twenties, McRae played piano at a New York club called Minton's Playhouse, Harlem's most famous jazz club, sang as a chorus girl, and worked as a secretary. It was at Milton's where she met trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Had her first important job as a pianist with the Benny Carter's big band (1944), worked with Count Basie (1944) and made first recording as pianist with Mercer Ellington Band (1946-1947). But it was while working in Brooklyn that she came to the attention of Decca?s Milt Gabler. Her five year association with Decca yielded 12 LPs.