Wynona Carr ©1999JCMarion


Wynona Carr was born in Cleveland, Ohio in August of 1924. While growing up in Cleveland she learned piano, voice, harmony, and arranging, and sharpened these skills while attending the Cleveland Musical College. Two years later she used her musical skills as a member of the famous Wings Over Jordan Choir. While a member of this group she took part in a gospel music appearance with the group The Pilgrim Travelers. They were so impressed by Carr that they relayed their words of support and praise to Art Rupe, president of Specialty Records. He soon recorded her and in 1949 her first record was released for Specialty. It was "Each Day" and "Lord Jesus" with the Austin McCoy's Combo on Specialty #324. Rupe had her listed with the company as Sister Wynona Carr. Her second side for the label was "I Want To Go To Heaven And Rest" and "I Know That He Knows" on #333. Wynona Carr joins Brother Joe May and the Sally Martin Singers are starred in a big gospel music show at the Elks Hall in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving weekend.

Sister Wynona recorded a gospel duet with Brother Joe may for her third outing for Specialty on #348 - "I'll Serve You Lord Til My Dying Day" and "What Do You Know About Jesus". The two songs "I Heard Mother Pray One Day" and "Don't Miss That Train" feature Sister Wynona with Prof. Donald E. Thomas on #364. In early 1951 Sister Wynona Carr again recorded a duet with Brother Joe May - "I See Jesus" and "It's All Right" on #377. "I Know Someday God's Gonna Call Me" and "What Are You Gonna Do When You Get To Heaven" are released on Specialty #383. The next record was the gospel pairing "The Good Old Way" and "See His Blessed Face" on #395.

In mid-1953 Sister Wynona Carr recorded a unique gospel song called "The Ball Game" which related the gospel experience in baseball terms that became one of the top selling gospel records of the day. The flip side was called "I Know By Faith". Later on that year Wynona spent some time away from the performing circuit and became organist and choir director for the Rev. L.C. Franklin. In 1954 she did a lot of club dates as part of a triumvirate of gospel singers on the edge of R & B when she teamed with Rosetta Tharpe and Marie Knight. Perhaps because of the experience with these two like minded performers, sometime in late 1955, Sister Wynona Carr became just Wynona and was now a true rhythm singer. The first Specialty record under her new sound was #575 - "Nursery Rhyme Rock" and "Please Mister Jailer". in April of 1956. Two months later #580 - "Jump Jack Jump" and "Hurt Me". This record does well, especially "Hurt Me" which hits number one in Kansas City, the best showing of any R & B side by Carr. In November Specialty #589 is issued - "Should I Ever Love Again?" and "Till The Well Runs Dry". Surprisingly the record does well, with "Should I Ever" even getting play on many pop music stations in parts of the country.

In 1957 Wynona's first record of the year is #600 - "What Do You Know About Love" and "Heartbreak Mel". Two months later #628 is released - "The Things You Do To Me" and "Touch And Go", and soon after Specialty #650 - "If I Pray" / "I'm Mad At You". There were two more releases on Specialty that year for Wynona - #678 - "Give Me Your Hand To Hold" and "How Many Times" and #683 - "An Old fashioned Love" and "Someday, Somewhere, Somehow". In late 1957 Carr was diagnosed with TB and she withdrew from performing or recording. When she had recovered enough in 1959 she left Specialty after a decade and signed with Frank Sinatra's new label Reprise Records. However nothing much became of that association, and Wynona Carr returned to her hometown of Cleveland. She was contented to remain in and around her home town and played club dates sparingly over the next few years. By 1970 Wynona had decided to retire from all performing. In the early seventies she suffered from deteriorating health and until she passed away in Cleveland in 1976.

Wynona Carr is the third member of our trio of gospel singers who evolved into R & B performers, and it was interesting to find out that they did spend some time performing together, and must have proven to be a unique attraction. Wynona passed from the gospel singing Sister Wynona to the R & B performer of the mid fifties. She proved to be a talented cross over between the two styles that have become so intertwined, and deserves to be remembered.

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