Carmen Bradford is jazz royalty, a four-time Grammy Award nominee (most recently in 2022, for “Live At Birdland – The Count Basie Orchestra with Carmen Bradford”) and the recipient of the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Jazz Vocalist Award. With her body of work, which reflects her vast experience, versatility, and technical brilliance, she has carved out her place in jazz history, and she continues to contribute to the preservation of this uniquely American art form.
Bradford was born in Austin, Texas and raised in Altadena, California. The daughter of legendary cornetist and composer Bobby Bradford and world-renown jazz vocalist, composer, and author Melba Joyce, and granddaughter of Melvin Moore (who sang with Lucky Millender and his Big Band, Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band, and the Ink Spots), Bradford grew up with music in her home and in her heart.
She was discovered and hired by William “Count” Basie when she was just 22; she went on to be the featured vocalist with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra for nine years and has continued to perform with them regularly throughout her career. All four of her Grammy Award nominations are for albums with the Count Basie Orchestra, including two in the 1980s and a third, “Big Boss Band,” with guitarist George Benson. (She and Benson performed the classic duet, “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.) The fourth is this year’s “Live At Birdland.”
In 1992, Bradford released her first debut album, “Finally Yours,” (Evidence Records) to critical acclaim. In 1995, the release of her second solo album, “With Respect,” (Evidence Records) established Bradford as one of jazz music’s most diverse and exciting vocal stylists.
Bradford has performed and/or recorded with Patti Austin, Tony Bennett, George Benson, Shelly Berg, James Brown, Benny Carter, Dori Caymmi, John Clayton and the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra, Freddie Cole, Lena Horne, Kurt Elling, Wynton Marsalis, Jeremy Monteiro, David Murray, Willie Nelson, James Newton, Kenny Rankin, Lou Rawls, Doc Severinsen, Frank Sinatra, Byron Stripling, Tierney Sutton, Jeff Tyzik, Joe Williams, Nancy Wilson, Liz Wright, and countless other artists around the world.
She also has performed and/or recorded with the Dallas Symphony, the Dani Felber Big Band, the Detroit Symphony, the DIVA Jazz Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, the National Symphony, the Philadelphia Pops, the Rochester Philharmonic, the Vancouver Philharmonic and many other organizations.
Bradford has loaned her inimitable voice to stage productions and the music of Hollywood films, cartoons for television and radio commercials, and the theater. She sang on the haunting soundtrack for Oprah Winfrey’s “Beloved” and starred in the title role of Duke Ellington’s Folk Opera, “Queenie Pie,” at the University of Texas at Austin’s Butler School of Music.
In 2017, Bradford’s gift for teaching and mentoring others inspired the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to recruit Bradford to serve as Vocalist in Residence, and Director of the Jazz Voice Department in the school’s new Roots, Jazz, and American Music (RJAM) Program. Two years ago, she was named Vocal Chair of the department. She’ll appear at Word of South Sunday as part of the “Tribute to the Women in Jazz” on the Florida Jazz & Blues/Marriott AC Ballroom Stage.