Remembering my mom

Volume 113, No. 8September, 2013

Catherine Russell
Carline Ray and her daughter Catherine Russell in 2005.

Carline Ray and her daughter Catherine Russell in 2005.

My mother, Carline Ray, passed away on July 18 at the age of 88. She was a longstanding member of Local 802 and the union meant so much to her. I hope you enjoy the stories about her life elsewhere in this issue. To the many people who have called me or sent me beautiful condolence cards and e-mails, I thank you and am so grateful.

I wake up each morning and reflect on how Carline was a great mom. She provided me with a well-rounded cultural education, which was extremely important to her. She would say, “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad.” So I grew up being exposed to all kinds of good music! She took me to see Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, as well as to the opera and to see Thelonious Monk, too. We watched variety shows on TV, where I finally got to see all the artists we had only known from radio shows like William B. Williams’ “Make Believe Ballroom” and others. In the early 1960s, I accompanied Carline to numerous recording sessions in midtown Manhattan studios, where all the musicians recorded in one room. She took me to choral rehearsals where I got to hear beautiful classically-trained voices in harmony. She got me my first professional singing job when I was 9 years old, recording educational children’s records. Years later she got me my first choral job performing in “Revelations,” as part of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

I heard Carline play bass and perform with trombonist Melba Liston, Mary Lou Williams, Sy Oliver’s orchestra at the Rainbow Room, tenor saxophonist Arnie Lawrence, and numerous shows with the great Ruth Brown. Carline took me to the Cookery to see Alberta Hunter several times.

Mom was also a soloist and a member of the choir at North Church. Many a Saturday night would find Carline coming home late from a club date (3 or 4 a.m. in those days). She would get a Sunday Times from the newsstand, sit up and read it for an hour, and sleep for an hour. Then she’d get up and make breakfast. We’d get dressed and head out to pick up two or three of the other choir members to arrive at church for 9:30 a.m. choir rehearsal.

In addition to all the musical ventures, she still found time to take me to the zoo, museums, movies, Coney Island, bowling, ice skating, and lunch at Horn & Hardart.

And she had a teaching career in several different colleges, as well as working for Jazzmobile. I have met many of her students over the years. They were all excited to tell me how much studying with Carline meant to them. I was awestruck by her wealth of musical knowledge, and worked up the courage to take a few lessons from her over the last several years. I recall feeling on each occasion like I was jumping into the deep end of a pool, teaching myself how to swim. I think this is called tough love! She demanded that I learn to read music, and was very happy that I was so eager to study.

I think her biggest influence on me was her sense of values. She wanted people to be treated fairly, for the right thing to be done. Such was her dedication to Local 802. She educated me over the years about many issues and changes going on in the union. I am proud to say that she is the reason I became a member.

I also got to witness her pure joy and enthusiasm as we recorded “Vocal Sides,” her debut album as a bandleader, recorded in multiple sessions between 2008 and 2011. She was so excited to be in the studio, recording songs that she loved. All the vocal takes were good from beginning to end. As Carline got older, her deep and varied life experience came through in every note and phrase.

It’s rare to hear Carline Ray’s form of expression these days: her brand of Harlem upbringing mixed with classical training sprinkled with the blues. It’s fascinating to listen to.

My mother will always be with me, training and guiding me. I’m fortunate to have known her these many years, and I continue to learn and be amazed as I uncover the memorabilia she left behind.