Carole Denise Fredericks (June 5, 1952, Springfield, Massachusetts - June 7, 2001, Dakar, Senegal) was an American singer most famous for her recordings in France. Carole emerged from the shadow of her brother, the legendary blues musicologist Taj Mahal, to achieve fame and popularity in Europe and the French-speaking world. For more than two decades Paris, France, was her adopted home and Dakar, Senegal, was her favorite vacation spot. Although Fredericks left her mother country, she never left her roots. Steeped in the fertile music traditions of her parents, striving professionals from the Carolinas and the West Indies, she emerged as a powerful singer who wove the passionate threads of blues, jazz, gospel and R&B into a uniquely French tapestry. Between 1990 and 1996 she was in the trio Fredericks Goldman Jones alongside singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman and Welsh-French guitarist Michael Jones.
Carole Denise Fredericks was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on June 5, 1952, the youngest of Mildred and Harry Fredericks' five children. Carole and her siblings were raised in Springfield and educated in the public school system. Her mother who was originally from Bennettsville, South Carolina, sang with Big Bands and on Sundays was the lead singer for a local gospel choir. Her father, the son of immigrants from the island of Saint Kitts, was a pianist and wrote arrangements for jazz trios. Carole grew up in a household filled with music from around the world. Her parents encouraged creative expression in all their children. Carole's brothers and sister developed careers in art, music, dance and theatre. Her eldest brother is Grammy-winning blues musician, Taj Mahal.
Her parents, who came of age during the Harlem Renaissance, instilled in their children a sense of pride in their West Indian and African ancestry through their stories. Carole never got to know her father. When she was two years old, he was killed in a construction accident, crushed by a tractor when it flipped over. This was an extremely traumatic experience for her at an early age and, although her mother would remarry later, the loss of her father left a painful void that remained with her the rest of her life.
By the time she was 20, Carole was living in Oakland, California. A year after her graduation from Classical High School, she persuaded Taj to send for her. Upon her arrival in San Francisco, Taj put his sister to work as a background vocalist on a number of his albums - Mo' Roots; Music Fuh Ya'; Together; and Evolution. To supplement the income from session work, Carole was employed as a receptionist for the Pacific Personnel Services. She was one of 71 voices in the New Generation Singers Gospel Choir (Oakland, California) and performed with Odetta in the stage play Look What A Wonder. Fredericks organized a trio - piano, bass and voice - and booked singing engagements on the weekends.
In an interview from OH LA! Magazine she explains: "I was part of a choir for three years and I was doing backup work. It was not enough to sustain a comfortable lifestyle and I started to get sick and tired of this life. I refused to get by on my brother's name. During this period, I was working in San Francisco at a French restaurant, La Belle Helene. Some of the patrons would often suggest that I go to France. They said I would do very well there. They were very convincing and without knowing a bit of French, I left it all. I bought a one-way ticket and I was off to Paris. Everyone thought I was crazy."
Arrival in France:
Carole arrived in France with the hope of pursuing a singing career in January 1979. She knew no one. In a chance encounter, Carole met the owner of La Belle Helene at the airport.
"He called his friends and I found myself working almost immediately. I started to sing everywhere. It was barely three weeks after my arrival that I was signed with Carla Music to record a disco album entitled Black Orchid."
One of the songwriters for Black Orchid was another American singer, Ann Calvert. Through Calvert, Fredericks met Baltimore native Yvonne Jones. Together they formed a trio of background vocalists that were in demand by leading recording artists - Dalida, Johnny Hallyday, Hugues Aufray, Carlos and Sylvie Vartan.
Fredericks was determined to learn French as quickly as possible. As her command of the language improved, engagements extended from the studio to the stage. By 1985, Fredericks was earning a comfortable salary as a singer and performing in concerts with Laurent Voulzy, Michel Berger, France Gall and Eddy Mitchell. In 1981 she was a backing singer for Jean-Claude Pascal on the Luxembourg entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, tying for eleventh place.
1985 In 1985, Carole was featured in the Gilbert Bécaud spectacular. Later that year, she toured Scandinavia with Mireille Mathieu. She was cast in Je vous aime by Claude Berri and in Roman Polanski's Pirates opposite Walter Matthau. Other film roles followed.
1986 Fredericks' determination to master the French language greatly contributed to her success. Not only did the language come easily to her, she understood its nuances which allowed her to sing in French as if it were her first language. By now Fredericks was singing with leading Francophone artists - Johnny Hallyday, Mylène Farmer, François Feldman, Patricia Kaas, Julien Clerc, and Liane Foly.
Her reputation as a gifted singer willing to lend her musical talent in support of another artist and keen bilingual skills brought her name to the attention of pop music composer Jean-Jacques Goldman.
Fredericks Goldman Jones:
"Carole arrived in France in 1979. Shortly afterwards she launched a career as a studio musician - i.e. one of those people with extraordinary technical skills who put her talent at the service of other singers. In the course of her career Carole provided backing vocals for a lot of different singers and that is how I came to meet her myself" ... Jean-Jacques Goldman.
Carole's good fortune resulted in a telephone call from Jean-Jacques, asking her to sing on his next album and tour with him.
"That was a turning point for my life. He had seen me shine in my little corner; he allowed me to take center stage," said Carole. Jean-Jacques and Carole collaborated on a number of significant film soundtracks and albums projects.
In September 1987, Carole went into the studio with Jean-Jacques Goldman to record background vocals on his album Entre gris clair et gris foncé. She then toured with him for a year, August 1988 to August 1989.
1989 Jean-Jacques asked Carole to record Brother, the theme song for the film L'UNION SACRÉE by Alexandre Arcady in 1989. In between projects with Jean-Jacques, Carole continued to go out on tour this time with Mylène Farmer and she was in the studio working on albums for Vanessa Paradis and Véronique Sanson.
1990 Jean-Jacques invited Carole to join him and second guitarist, Michael Jones, on stage. Almost immediately, Carole was catapulted into prominence with the release of their debut album Fredericks Goldman Jones. The album went Diamond, selling 600,000 copies in the first 6 months, 1 million copies in the first year. Fredericks Goldman Jones toured extensively throughout Europe, South East Asia, Japan, Africa and the French-speaking world. It also resulted in one of the best known songs by the trio titled "À nos actes manqués".
1992 Fredericks Goldman Jones released a second album Sur scène in 1992. The album reached Platinum sales.
Fredericks was asked to sing on an album project with Eric Clapton and Elton John. She sang on Runaway Train for the Elton John album The One.
1993 After the Iron Curtain collapsed, Fredericks Goldman Jones visited Moscow to record their third album Rouge. The album featured the voices of Russia's Red Army Choir. Fredericks Goldman Jones and the Red Army Choir embarked on an international tour. The album skyrocketed to Diamond status.
1994 For their next album, Fredericks Goldman Jones recorded a live performance at a Paris night club. The album featured the sweaty trio singing selections from their earlier albums. The result was - Fredericks Goldman Jones Du New Morning au Zénith. In a breakout performance, Carole took command of the stage supported by Becky Bell and Yvonne Jones, Jean-Jacques, Michael Jones and the entire band showcasing three R&B classics - Aretha Franklin's Think MySpace.com video, Knock on Wood Video on YouTube, and Tobacco Road. The gritty club atmosphere, performance spontaneity and realism were captured on film then released as a music video. The album and subsequent DVD went Platinum.
1995 In 1995 Jean-Jacques wrote a new album, D'eux for Céline Dion. Carole, Yvonne Jones and Becky Bell were asked to provide background vocals for the album. D'eux became a breakthrough international hit for Céline Dion and was released in the United States under the name The French Album. D'EUX / THE FRENCH ALBUM sold a record 9 million copies worldwide to become the best selling French-language album of all time.
At this point, Carole began writing songs for her own solo project.
1996 Carole recorded Springfield, the first of two solo albums, in July 1996. Named after her hometown in Western Massachusetts, Springfield was dedicated to her mother, Mildred, who died just before the album was completed.
"She is no longer of this world but she is always with me. The gift that I have, I received it from her," said Carole.
Springfield pays tribute to those who influenced Carole's music and became her idols: Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Sam and Dave, and Mahalia Jackson. She decided to sing what she knew best: gospel and the blues. Gildas Arzel provided the music with arrangements by Erick Benzi. Carole wrote 12 original songs collaborating with Jacques Veneruso, Jean-Jacques Goldman, Christophe Satterfield and Yvonne Jones. Springfield also showcased You Had It Comin, a rare duet with older brother Taj Mahal. Recorded entirely in English, Springfield was released to rave reviews in France, Belgium and Switzerland. Carole embarked on a solo European tour with her band Les Dragons.
1997 Carole was joined by Maria Popkiewicz and Yvonne Jones in the studio to add vocals to En passant, the newest solo album by Jean-Jacques Goldman.
1998 Run Away Love, a single from the album Springfield debuted as the theme song to an action film Une Chance sur Deux starring Vanessa Paradis, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Alain Delon.
Carole recorded Personne Ne Saurait, a duet with the all-boy group Poétic Lover. Dailymotion.com video The song was written by Goldman and Jacques Veneruso. The CD single generated "best in sales in its class for autumn 1998" on the pop charts. A celebrity, Carole made the rounds for talk shows and television interviews.
Jean-Jacques took time out to write a second album for Céline Dion, S'il Suffisait D'aimer. Carole returned to the studio to lend her vocal support on the album.
1999 Carole followed the success of Springfield with an all French album Couleurs et Parfums in 1999. The album name was no accident - "I love color," she said. "It's like life, the sun, it's smiling. As for perfume, I always wear the same mixture of an extract of coconut oil and of Nocturne de Caron. That is my signature."
Couleurs et Parfums was the natural evolution of an artist coming into her own. Again Carole surrounded herself with good friends and musicians - Yvonne Jones, Jean-Jacques Goldman, Jacques Veneruso and newcomer, Frédéric Kocourek. Together they created a rap, rhythm and blues inspired album. Everything came together...Carole's early experiences in America and her love affair with France found full expression on Couleurs et Parfums' 11 original tracks.
Four hit singles emerged from Couleurs et Parfums...
Personne ne Saurait (debuted in August 1998 with Poétic Lover),
"Qu'est-ce qui t'amène?" (debuted April 30, 1999),
Respire (debuted September 27, 1999),
Le Prix a Payer (April 16, 2000 debuted with only radio promotion ),
December 2-11, 1999 Carole headlined as a solo act in Paris at Saint-Germain-des-Prés Auditorium. She shared the stage with invited guests: Jean-Jacques Goldman, Faudel, Allan Théo, Bruno Pelletier, Michael Jones, Kani Curry of Poétic Lover and Nicole Amovin.
Liane Foly and Carole Fredericks perform Une femme amoureuse / A Woman in Love before a studio audience for the music television show, TAPIS ROUGE on France2. Dailymotion.com video
Carole ended the 1900s with a performance on December 31, 1999 at the world famous Le Lido in Paris. Early in 2001, Carole Fredericks performs with Roch Voisine the new single release L'Aziza on the studio television show, Taratata. Following the performance, Carole and Roch are interviewed. L'Aziza was written by Daniel Balavoine and was a great anti-racist hit by this French humanist singer-songwriter in the 1980s. Dailymotion video
Philanthropy / Charity:
Always willing to lend her support for worthy causes, Carole contributed her talents at concerts and on recordings for AIDS victims, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and Amnesty International. She performed for nine seasons with Les Enfoirés on behalf of Les Restos du Cœur, an organization set up by French humorist, Michel Coluche (whose former wife Véronique Colucci took over at his death), to care for the hungry and homeless in France.
"A larger than life figure with a generous spirit, Carole was a performer who threw herself into her live performances body and soul. She liked nothing more than getting involved in fund-raising tours with singers and musician friends. Indeed, Carole was a regular at charity concerts organized by Restos du Cœur and Les Enfoirés. On March 8 (2001)... she brought the house down at "Voix de l'Espoir Voices of Hope" concert organized on International Women's Day. Taking the stage at Club Med World in Paris with a host of other female singers including Princess Erika, Jocelyne Beroard, Rokia Traoré and Lââm, Carole helped to raise much needed funds for the construction of a Pan-African children's hospital in Dakar Senegal, West Africa." - Pierre Rene-Worms for rfimusique.com.
Two days after celebrating her 49th birthday in Dakar, Senegal, Carole suffered a fatal heart attack. At the request of the French Minister of Culture, friends and fans, Carole was buried in historic Montmartre Cemetery. On Monday, June 18, a religious funeral service was held for her at Eglise Notre-Dame de Clignancourt, the church that stands across from her apartment in the 18th district.
Montmartre Cemetery 20 Avenue Rachel 75018 Paris, France 23rd Division - Avenue Carrière
"Carole Fredericks was a great lady of song whose light has been turned out. She has left a memory of an incomparable voice and of an unforgettable spirit. Always smiling, generous and accessible, she lived to sing..." OH LA! Magazine June 18, 2001
Popular in France and in Europe for more than two decades, Carole Fredericks was relatively unknown in the United States. In the last ten years, her surviving siblings with the help of French educators have raised awareness about her career by employing Carole's music to teach the French language.
In May 2002, a year after her death, the Fredericks family (Connie Fredericks-Malone and brothers, blues icon, Taj Mahal, Edward Fredericks, Richard Fredericks and Osborne Williams) established CDF Music Legacy, LLC, a family company dedicated to preserving their late sister's legacy. CDF Music Legacy secured the world rights to all of Carole Fredericks' solo recordings in France.
In 2003, CDF Music Legacy secured permission to create French teaching materials that used Ms. Fredericks' catalog of music including the songs recorded with the group, Fredericks Goldman Jones. In tribute to her memory, Carole Fredericks' biography, songs and music videos were transformed into Activity Books that formally combined popular French music and teaching methodology. Tant Qu'Elle Chante, Elle Vit! Apprendre le français grâce à l'héritage de Carole Fredericks was introduced to educators at the American Association of Teachers of French conference in Martinique.
By 2004 her solo albums, Springfield and Couleurs et parfums were available for the first time in the United States. Later that same year, CDF Music Legacy joined forces with Tralco Educational Services (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada) to develop a second Activity Book based on Fredericks' French-language album. In 2005 Couleurs et parfums: Apprendre le français grâce à l'héritage de Carole Fredericks was unveiled in Quebec, Canada, at the American Association of Teachers of French Conference.
As of today, both Tant Qu'Elle Chante, Elle Vit! and Couleurs et parfums Activity Books are used by teachers of French in more than 2000 K-12 schools and 65 colleges and universities throughout the United States, Canada and as far away as Singapore.
On August 18, 2006, the family and a team of French language educators established the Carole D. Fredericks Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization devoted to promoting the study of French as a second language, the study of francophone cultures and the preservation of Carole Fredericks' musical legacy. The Foundation publishes the activity books, and develops related methodologies that employ her music.
Also in 2006, Carole Fredericks' life and contribution to the study of French were recognized posthumously by the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Carole and Taj Mahal received the James W. Dodge Memorial Foreign Language Advocate Award in recognition of the spotlight they shine on the vast potential of music to foster genuine intercultural communication and to maintain cultural heritages.
Jean-Jacques Goldman wrote the following comments in a note that was read at the NECTFL ceremony.
"I am especially touched by this award given to our friend Carole.
Carole was born once in the United States, the land of her parents, of her childhood, of her preparation, of her musical culture. She was born a second time in France, the land of her artistic recognition, her loves and friends, of her pleasures, of her home. Yet a third time she was born in Senegal, the land of her roots, of her heart, perhaps the place where she felt best, the land of her departure, as well. "
Although Carole was profoundly American, she was symbol of the mix of cultures that she represented in the most beautiful way: by her voice, through the music. Thank you for this gesture which honors her memory. She lives still in France, through her songs and in many hearts. Through her, it is the America that we love."
- Jean-Jacques Goldman
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license