BiographyBrooklyn, New York, USA
Thelma Carpenter was born in Brooklyn, NY on Jan. 15,1922, the only child of Fred and Mary Carpenter, and her career spanned seven decades. She was performing on radio programs like Jack Darrell's "Kiddies hour" and the "Horn and Hardart Children's Hour" at age five and had her own show on WNYC by the time she was 11. After winning an Apollo Theatre amateur night in 1938, she headlined at Kelly's Stable on legendary 52nd St. while still in her teens. Read more... Door and made her first recordings for Brunswick in 1939. She joined Coleman Hawkins' orchestra in 1940 and recorded "He's Funny That Way" for RCA Bluebird. In 1943, she replaced Helen Humes with the Count Basie band, with whom she toured for two years and made numerous broadcast recordings, as well as the Columbia single "I Didn't Know About You." She made her Broadway debut in "Memphis Bound" with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in 1944 and replaced Dinah Shore as featured vocalist on the weekly "Eddie Cantor Show" for the 1945-46 season on NBC. She also signed her first contract as a solo artist with Majestic Records, releasing a dozen sides including "My Guy's Come Back," "Can't Help Lovin' That Man," "Hurry Home" and "Harlem on My Mind," as well as a swing version of "Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho" backed by the Ames Brothers in their recording debut. She later recorded two sides with pianist Herman Chittison for Musicraft and four sides for Columbia. In 1947, she returned to Broadway in the hit revue "Inside U.S.A." with Beatrice Lillie, followed by a revival of "Shuffle Along" in 1952 and the musical "Ankles Aweigh" in 1955. She also did extensive nightclub work and headlined stage shows at such theaters as Loew's State, the Capitol and the Palace. She made early TV appearances with Duke Ellington, Jackie Gleason and Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. She signed with Coral Records in 1961 and had a hit single answering Elvis Presley with "Yes, I'm Lonesome Tonight" and recorded the album "Thinking of You Tonight," released in 1963. In 1968, she was hired as standby for Pearl Bailey in "Hello, Dolly!", soon taking over the matinees and playing more than 100 performances. She created the role of Irene Paige in "Bubbling Brown Sugar," and was signed by Bob Fosse to play the Irene Ryan role of Berthe in the national tour of "Pippin." She co-starred as the mother in a TV sitcom version of Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" and in 1978 made her major film debut as Miss One in Sidney Lumet's production of "The Wiz" with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. She played the mother of Gregory and Maurice Hines in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Cotton Club" and had TV acting roles on "The Love Boat," "The Paul Lynde Show" and "Cosby," as well as the movies "Call Her Mom" with Connie Stevens and "The Devil's Daughter" with Shelley Winters. Her last major singing performance was on the 1993 all-star NBC special, "Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame." She died of a heart attack in 1997.