SISTER WYNONA CARR

Sister-Wynona-CarrWynona Carr had everything a girl needs to be a big star; a great voice with range, colour and dynamic control; a pretty face that looked good on publicity material; stage presence; songwriting talent; a powerful sense of ambition: and yet she lacked the vital ingredient of Dumb Luck! She was not the first to try to bridge the gap between Gospel and Blues, and she was an extremely talented young woman, but when she eventually got the chance to take a shot at it, and it all seemed to be working, at the vital moment Fate dealt her a devastating blow.

 

Born in Cleveland in 1924, Wynona played piano from the age of eight, and studied voice, harmony and arranging at Cleveland Music College. Aged 20, she moved to Detroit to direct a local Baptist choir, and soon set up her own Gospel group, The Carr Singers, to play the popular circuit of Baptist Churches around the South and South-west. JW Alexander of The Pilgrim Travellers was impressed by her talents, and sent a demo to Art Rupe at Specialty Records in LA, who signed Wynona to the label in 1949. Art was a fan of Sister Rosetta Tharpe‘s work with Lucky Millinder‘s band, and appended the ‘Sister’ tag to Wynona, who was not amused when it appeared on her first release, the swinging ballad ‘Every Day’ with ‘Lord Jesus’ on the flip. Her parents were not happy with Wynona singing secular music, so Art was probably just pouring oil on troubled waters. Wynona adapted her song ‘Pilgrim Traveller’ from the old Blues standard ‘St. James Infirmary’ and ‘I Heard the News’ from ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’, but Specialty were unwilling to release them. Another Specialty star, Brother Joe May cut a duet ‘Our Father’ with Wynona, but it gathered dust too. Specialty only issued ten of Wynona’s records in six years, and only ‘The Ball Game’ in 1952 (basically Jesus vs Satan) could be considered a Gospel hit.

‘The Pilgrim Traveller’ is a Blues song in disguise!

Wynona kept on composing and many of her songs were covered by others, so she earned more from her writing than from her records. She also continued as musical Director of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, under the guidance of Rev. CL Franklin, so his daughter Aretha probably picked up some tips from Wynona too. After touring with Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight, Wynona made the decision to concentrate her efforts on R&B, and finally had a chart record with ‘Should I Ever Love Again’ in 1957, which got some encouraging crossover radio airplay. Everything was looking good, but around this time Wynona was infected with tubercolosis, and had to stop singing to rest and recuperate. She attempted a comeback in 1959, but Specialty had seen better days and was winding down, so Wynona signed for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label. Despite first class production values, her first album for them didn’t sell and Wynona suffered a spell of depression. She returned to Cleveland and played some gigs in the region, but never stepped onto the national stage again. By 1970, she had withdrawn from music as her health declined, and she passed away in her hometown six years later.