Jean Carne (sometimes spelled Carn) is an all-time great who defines the term “unsung.” Born Sarah Jean Perkins in Columbus, Georgia, Carne was a child prodigy, singing in church while also learning to play multiple instruments. Her talent led her all the way to the famed Julliard School in New York, where she showed herself to be adept at several styles of music. It was there that she truly found her love of jazz music; she married jazz pianist Doug Carn and the two began performing together with great success.
The Carns moved to Los Angeles and Jean’s star immediately rose in the jazz community, as her rich tones and interpretive abilities belied her young age. She performed on two early albums of Earth, Wind & Fire, helping that group to develop its unique blend of jazz, funk and soul. Ultimately, she found a perfect spot as a solo performer, signing to Philadelphia International Records and teaming with the elegant soul songwriters and producers in the Gamble & Huff team.
Through the second half of the 1970s, Carne was a regular charter, hitting with such adult soul gems as “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” and “My Love Don’t Come Easy.” A mid-80s switch to Omni Records continued that success and resulted in her signature song, the Grover Washington-produced chart-topping hit “Closer Than Close.” Carne also showed her interpretive skills on hit covers of “Let’s Stay Together,” “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” and “Ain’t No Way.”
In between her solo hits, Carne was also a favorite duet partner for many stars, most notably Michael Henderson (“Valentine Love”) and Al Johnson (“I’m Back For More”), as well as a frequent guest vocalist on contemporary jazz recordings.
Though the hits stopped coming by the turn of the century, Carne kept touring regularly, while also recording on occasion. She most recently issued a critically acclaimed disc of jazz recordings earlier this year, as part of the Jazz Is Dead series of Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad.
We continue to marvel at the great Jean Carne and look forward to hearing her whenever she sings.
By Chris Rizik