Detroit-born violinist extraordinaire Regina Carter has earned another prestigious musical honor: the 2023 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Masters Fellowship Award for jazz advocacy. Carter received the award alongside fellow Detroit jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett and drummer Louis Hayes at a celebratory award ceremony and concert at The Kennedy Center on Saturday, April 1, for the start of Jazz Appreciation Month.
As a now sought-after violinist across the globe, Carter began perfecting her craft at the early age of four years old. After graduating from Cass Technical High School, Carter studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and at Oakland University, before gaining her first glimpse of fame through the all-female jazz group Straight Ahead. Since then, Carter has racked up accolades as a MacArthur “Genuis” Award recipient and a Doris Duke Artist Award, and now the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.
One Detroit contributor Linda Yohn of 90.9 WRCJ sits down with Regina Carter to talk about her latest honor. Carter shares how she’s still in shock yet honored to be chosen by the NEA, and how awards like this one are the green lights that let her know she’s going in the right direction. Plus, they discuss the variety of music Carter creates, from jazz to R&B, Latin, classical, blues, country, pop, African and more, and how those sounds all draw from the experiences she had as a child growing up in Detroit.
Linda Yohn, 90.0 WRCJ: To kick off Jazz Appreciation Month 2023, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., you, Kenny Garrett and Louis Hayes will be featured in concert to receive your NEA Jazz Master Award. This is a banner day for jazz in general and for Detroit Jazz specifically.
Regina Carter, Jazz Violinist, 2023 NEA Jazz Master: I’m over the moon, as the old people would say. I’m still in disbelief. I know it’s happening, I do these interviews and I am in touch, you know, making all the arrangements. And then I say, “Really, this is really happening.” And I’m really excited. I’m so honored. And the fact that it’s three Detroiters, I couldn’t be more proud of my city. It’s amazing on one hand that the three of us four are from Detroit, but it’s not amazing, it’s just the city. Detroit is extremely unique and special.
Linda Yohn: It sure is. But see, the thing is, is that this is not your first rodeo. This is not your first major award. I mean, you are a MacArthur Genius Grantee. So, what is the difference between, say, the NEA Jazz Master Award and some of the many other awards and accolades, well-deserved, I might add, that have come your way?
Regina Carter: Every award is very special. They’re like green lights, if you will, I call them to say you’re on the right path. And everyone has their own path, their own journey. And so, sometimes it feels like when you’re out here doing this, doing music, being self-employed, sometimes it’s like, what am I doing? And I think that’s probably everyone at certain points in our lives, we question what we’re doing. But any award that I’ve received, I feel like it’s a green light. Like, yes, keep going, you’re on the right track. And of course, winning the MacArthur was probably– that was so huge for me in my life.
And then, being a Doris Duke artist as well, after that. And then, on top of it, this– it’s– I’m blown away. I know that the music comes through me, not from me. And just having life experiences and allowing those experiences to help guide me and to guide my music. And I’ve had some opportunities that I never even thought about early on in my career or in my life. There’s so many ways in which to use music. And the longer I live, you know, I can serve. I love playing for audiences and touring, but I can also play for people in nursing homes, hospitals, I do hospice work and end-of-life work. And so, all of that feeds my soul and helps, it just helps me to stay humble.
Linda Yohn: Other aspects of Regina Carter that’s just super important, is the variety in your recordings. I go back all the way to the Straight Ahead days. But then, when you started out and you were doing your own sessions, you decided, or I don’t know if you decided it, but someone decided that there should be variety in the presentations.
Regina Carter: Well, it’s interesting. I recorded with Atlantic, two solo records, and those records were considered smooth jazz, whatever that means. And when I signed with Verve, they wanted more of Straight Ahead. And I remember turning in my first record and the A&R artist repertoire person assigned to me said, “Well, your music is all over the place. People won’t know how to categorize you.” And I said, “I’m not going to pick one thing. I love all of this music as just music.”
And growing up in Detroit, listening to the radio stations, we heard such a wide variety of music under that umbrella of jazz. On the stations there was Motown, and then, of course, any drive anywhere in the city you might hear, if you go to Greektown, you’d hear some Greek classical music, or Mexican village, you’d hear authentic Mexican folk music, mariachi you might hear, if you go, there was the Chaldean section of town, there was all of this music from all these different ethnic groups that were living in and around Detroit. All of those sounds were in my head. And when the A&R guy said, “Well, you have to pick one.” I said, “I can’t.” You know, all these sounds are there. So, I need to be able to express music.
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