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Afterglow Jazz and American Popular Song

The Best-Known Unknown in Show Business: Thelma Carpenter

Singer Thelma Carpenter's career stretched from the swing era to "The Wiz" and "The Cosby Show," and she counted songwriter Alec Wilder among her champions.

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Thelma Carpenter album cover

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Influenced by vocalists such as Ethel Waters and Mabel Mercer, Thelma Carpenter had a style that critics have described as "rhythmic and lusty".

Singer and actress Thelma Carpenter had a long and successful career in the entertainment field, but she never really gained wider fame, leading her to joke in later years that she was “the best-known unknown in show business.”

Influenced by vocalists such as Ethel Waters and Mabel Mercer, Carpenter had a style that critics have described as both “rhythmic and lusty” and “trans-racial,” and shaped with a classic 1940s sound that uses just a little vibrato.

A veteran of the swing era, in later years she performed on Broadway and also appeared in the 1979 movie version of The Wiz as “Miss One.”

This program features Carpenter’s earliest recordings with Teddy Wilson and Coleman Hawkins, several of her little-heard sides with Count Basie’s orchestras, a number of her post-World War II solo records (including a collaboration with an early version of the Ames Brothers), and music from a 1970s NPR popular-song series with popular-song maven Alec Wilder, as well as two tracks from a lost album of duets with pianist Ellis Larkins.

Music Heard On This Episode

More Than You Know
Count Basie — Jubilee Shows 96 and 171 (Storyville Records, 2001)
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More Than You Know
Count Basie — Jubilee Shows 96 and 171 (Storyville Records, 2001)
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This Is the Moment
Teddy Wilson — Jumpin' for Joy (Hep , 1999)
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She's Funny That Way
Coleman Hawkins — Body and Soul (RCA, 1996)
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I Didn't Know About You
Count Basie — Seems Like Old Times (Sepia, 2006)
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Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me
Count Basie — Jubilee Shows 55 and 200 (Storyville Records, 2001)
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All of My Life
Herman Chittison Trio — Seems Like Old Times (Sepia, 2006)
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Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho
Thelma Carpenter/Ames Brothers — Seems Like Old Times (Sepia, 2006)
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Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man
Thelma Carpenter — Seems Like Old Times (Sepia, 2006)
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Diga Diga Doo
Thelma Carpenter — Seems Like OldTimes (Sepia, 2006)

Notes: Midpoint music bed.

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Bali Ha'I
Thelma Carpenter — Seems Like Old Times (Sepia, 2006)
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Doin' the New Lowdown
Thelma Carpenter — Seems Like Old Times (Sepia, 2006)
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I'm Just Wild About Harry
Thelma Carpenter/Loonis McGlohon — A Souvenir (Audiophile, 1997)
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Give Me a Heart to Sing To
Thelma Carpenter/Loonis McGlohon — A Souvenir (Audiophile, 1997)
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If You Could See Me Now
Ellis Larkins/Thelma Carpenter — A Souvenir (Audiophile, 1997)
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These Foolish Things
Thelma Carpenter — Seems Like Old Times (Sepia, 2006)
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I'll Be Around
Thelma Carpenter/Loonis McGlohon — A Souvenir (Audiophile, 1997)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • John Goning

    I'm trying to find the song that Thelma Carpenter sang in the movie COTTON CLUB, A phrase went ' try my barbeque ” Any suggestions

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