American entertainer, 1948
, known for big voice, as well as "her vivacious
spirit, chatty style and easily recognizable plump
ness." (Birmingham Post-Herald)
Nell Carter may have been short (4 foot 11 inches), but her voice could fill a Broadway concert hall. As the New York Times put it, "A typical performance by Ms. Carter reached into the fabric of a song and tore out its seams with feral flourishes." She first became known as a Broadway diva, with an Obie and Tony-award winning performance in 1978's Ain't Misbehavin'. She would receive an Emmy award in 1982 for the televised version of that revue.
She was a television regular in America for 6 years, from 1981 to 1987, as the lead in the situation comedy
, Gimme a Break!,
in which she played the sassy housekeeper
of a widower's family. She received two Emmy nominations during her time on that series.
Nelly Ruth Hardy (her birth name) grew up in Birmingham, Alabama
, singing in her church and school choir
. As a teenager, she dropped out of school when she became pregnant, and completed high school in 1968
. She sang on the gospel
circuit before moving on to coffeehouse
s and nightclub
s. She aspired to sing opera
, but found herself attracted to belting
out a song, making her better suited for musical
theatre. After roles in Soon
(both shows closed quickly), she gained national attention with her show-stopping performances in Broadway's tribute to Fats Waller
, Ain't Misbehavin'
(Her signature song from that show was "Mean to Me
"). She would appear in both the original cast and in the 1988 revival
. Her last run on Broadway, in 1997, was in the role of Miss Hannigan in Annie
Although her most notable film appearance was in Milos Forman's Hair in 1979, she continued to appear on television series (Ally McBeal, Blue's Clues, Touched By an Angel, Reba) throughout the 1990s, and perform onstage.
A diabetic, she survived surgery for brain aneurysms in the the 1990s. When she died (presumably of natural causes), she was in rehearsal for a 30th anniversary production of the musical Raisin, at the International City Theatre in Long Beach, California.
Associated Press. 24 January 2003. Chicago Sun-Times Web site. <http://www.suntimes.com/output/entertainment/cst-nws-xcarter24.html> (24 January 2003)
Internet Movie Database. <http://us.imdb.com/Name?Carter,+Nell+(I)> (24 January 2003)
Gans, Andrew. "Diva Talk: Remembering Nell Carter." Playbill.com. 24 Janaury 2003. <http://www.playbill.com/news/article/77490.html> (25 Janaury 2003)
Holden, Stephen. "Nell Carter, Star of 'Ain't Misbehavin',' Dies at 54." New York Times. 24 January 2003.
Monitor, Leigh Ann. "'Incredible Voice' of Nell Carter Stilled." Birmingham Post-Herald. 24 January 2003. <http://www.postherald.com/me012403.shtml> (24 January 2003)