|Birth name||Thelma Carpenter|
January 15, 1922|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||May 14, 1997
New York City, New York
|Associated acts||Count Basie
As a child performer, Carpenter had her own radio show on WNYC in New York and won an amateur night at the Apollo Theatre in 1938, where she would be honored and perform nearly 60 years later on the 1993 all-star NBC-TV special "Apollo Theater Hall of Fame, hosted by Bill Cosby. She played such clubs as Kelly's Stables and the Famous Door on legendary 52nd Street, where she was discovered by John Hammond. She subsequently made her debut as a band vocalist with Teddy Wilson's short-lived 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 including "Do Nothing till You Hear from Me", "More Than You Know", "I Dream of You", "Tess's Torch Song" and "My Ideal". She also did a V-disc version of Frank Loesser's "The Last Thing I Want Is Your Pity." Carpenter replaced Dinah Shore as vocalist on Eddie Cantor's radio show for the 1945-46 season, marking the first time that 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 such chic clubs as Le Ruban Bleu, Spivy's Roof, the Bon Soir, the St. Regis Maisonette and Michael's Pub, as well as Chez Bricktop in Paris and Rome. She also headlined major theaters including the Capitol Theatre, Loew's State and the Palace Theatre on Broadway and sang with Duke Ellington in concerts and on television.
Broadway appearances include Memphis Bound with Bill Robinson, Inside USA with Beatrice Lillie, the 1952 revival of Shuffle Along with Avon Long, Ankles Aweigh with Betty and Jane Kean and the title role in Hello, Dolly! in which she replaced Pearl Bailey more than 100 times and became the fully billed matinee star. It was in "Dolly" that she was seen by a producer from Paramount who signed her to co-star as the mother in the TV version of Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park. She also created the role of Irene Paige in Bubbling Brown Sugar, starring in the Philadelphia and Washington engagements, but left prior to the Broadway opening, and was featured in the original workshop production of Taking My Turn.
Carpenter toured nationally as the showstopping "Berthe" in Bob Fosse's production of Pippin, the same year she filmed her showstopping number "He's The Wizard" for Sidney Lumet's film version of The Wiz. Fosse and Lumet arranged their schedules so that she could do both projects. She recorded for Majestic, RCA Victor, Columbia and Coral and her answer-record to Elvis Presley, "Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight", reached the Billboard Top 60 in 1961. She also had a critically acclaimed album, "Thinking of You Tonight."
Carpenter's television appearances began as early as the 1940s (including Cavalcade of Stars with Jackie Gleason, "Floor Show" with Eddie Condon and "Kreisler Bandstand" with Duke Ellington), and she was prominently featured on the 1993 NBC special "Apollo Theater Hall of Fame" with Diana Ross, Eric Clapton and Bill Cosby.
A 26-track compilation of her major recordings entitled "Seems Like Old Times" was issued by Sepia Records in 2006.
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 the films The Wiz (as Miss One) and The Cotton Club (as the mother of Maurice Hines and Gregory Hines.
Carpenter died of a heart attack in her New York apartment on May 14, 1997 and her body was not discovered until several days later, a fate that had previously befallen her mother and something she always feared. She was cremated.
- Crazy House (unbilled appearance with Count Basie)
- Call Her Mom
- The Devil's Daughter (1973)
- The Wiz
- The Cotton Club
- New York Stories (scenes cut prior to release)
Notable Television Appearances
- Cavalcade of Stars- 3 episodes (with Jackie Gleason, Jack Carter and Victor Borge)
- Kreisler Bandstand (with Duke Ellington and Avon Long)
- Eddie Condon Floor Show
- Ed Sullivan Show
- Merv Griffin Show
- Salute to Eddie Condon (with Johnny Mercer, Bob Crosby and Sammy Davis, Jr.)
- Barefoot in the Park- 12 episodes as "Mabel Bates"
- Cosby - "No Nudes Is Good Nudes"
- The Love Boat- "Lady from Sunshine Gardens", "Eye of the Beholder", "Bugged"
- The Paul Lynde Show- "An Affair to Forget"
- Apollo Theater Hall of Fame
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xm5Fdkhywzc&playnext=1&list=PL3982DA96E1F46733 Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame, 1993, Pt. 1
- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfskXO1K-G0 Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame, Pt. 2
- Thelma Carpenter at Find a Grave
- http://www.sepiarecords.com/sepia1080.html (album cover)