Largely unrecognized during her own lifetime, singer and composer Sister Wynona Carr was among the truly pioneering artists of her time.  Her music, which stood out because of its raw lyrics and blues-heavy sound, didn’t appeal to contemporary listeners, yet, looking back at her short-lived career, Carr today stands out for her ambition, innovative sound and glamorous style.

Wynona Carr was born in Cleveland, Ohio, where she started out as a gospel singer while learning the piano, voice, harmony, and arranging. After attending the Cleveland Musical College she formed her own five-piece group The Carr Singers around 1945 and started touring the Cleveland/Detroit area.

After impressing The Pilgrim Travelers, who shared a bill with Carr in the late Forties, Specialty Records founder Art Rupe signed her to label, giving Carr her new stage name “Sister” Wynona Carr – modelled after pioneering gospel singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

During her time at Specialty Carr recorded around twenty songs from 1949 to 1954, including a couple of duets with Specialty’s biggest gospel star at the time, Brother Joe May.

Not having too much success on the charts (except for “The Ball Game” (1952), which became one of Specialty’s best selling gospel records), Carr grew increasingly unhappy with the straight gospel direction of her career – she had walways hated the ‘Sister’ moniker of her recording name – and pleaded with Rupe to let her record “pops, jumps, ballads, and semi-blues”. Rupe relented and from 1955 to 1959 Carr recorded two dozen rock & roll and R&B sides for Specialty, which, like her gospel songs, she mostly wrote herself.

Always conscious of the styles and fashions and with a genuine love for glamour, Carr was keen on having a new image to go with her pitch at the secular market, and she wrote Rupe, “I’ve got some crazy gowns. Now I have to get some sexy (smile) pictures taken. . .”

Carr eventually scored an R&B hit with “Should I Ever Love Again?” in 1957, however just as the record was rising in the charts, Carr contracted tuberculosis. Too ill to perform, she wasn’t able to do the necessary promotional work or tour for over two years, effectively ending her tenure with Specialty in the summer of 1959 and putting an end to her career.

In 1961 Carr briefly signed with Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records and released an unsuccessful pop album. By the Seventies she had moved back to Cleveland, sinking into obscurity and suffering from declining health and depression. She died – forgotten – in 1976.

\”Please Mr Jailer\”

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