Jazz Pioneer Carline Ray Passes Away at 88

Jul 19, 2013

Jazz guitarist and activist Carline Ray died Thursday at Isabella House in New York City, according to a statement from her publicist. No cause of death was given. She was 88.

In the 1940s, Ray was a member of the pioneering all-female band, The International Sweethearts Of Rhythm. Ray, who was born in New York City, joined the group with fellow Juilliard School of Music student Edna Smith after the pair graduated in 1946. Ray played guitar and sang with the band.

In 1948 she joined Erskine Hawkins And His Orchestra after the International Sweethearts disbanded. After leaving Hawkins, Ray and Smith teamed up with fellow former Sweetheart Pauline Braddy to start a trio that played in New York clubs.  Her late husband was Luis Russell, Louis Armstrong's bandleader/arranger/pianist.

An accomplished guitar player and bassist she played on several musical projects including with Sy Oliver Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra directed by Mercer Ellington, pianist/composer Mary Lou Williams, trombonist-composer Melba Liston, and singer Ruth Brown.

She was an activist and an icon for Women in Jazz both the organization and the movement in general,  advising and befriending countless young female musicians who might otherwise not have had the persistence to deal with the hardships of the road: the one-nighters, playing what is largely a male-dominated music, and trying to establish an individual voice while remaining side players. In so doing, Ray earned the respect of musicians of both genders.

She was featured in the documentary film "The Girls In The Band," which was directed by Judy Chaikin.

The guitarist told author Sally Placksin, "I would rather be taken seriously as a musician, and the fact that I'm female -- I just happen to be female, that's all."

In 2005, Ray was the recipient of the Kennedy Center's Mary Lou Williams Women in Jazz Festival Award, and in 2008, she was presented with an International Women In Jazz Award.  Earlier this year, she released her solo debut album, "Carline Ray - Vocal Sides."

Ray is survived by her daughter, jazz singer Catherine Russell, and her sister Irma Sloan.