Betty Carter Park

Betty Carter Park

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

What was here before?

The property was once home to small-scale residential and commercial buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries that fell into disrepair and abandonment by the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, the City took possession of the land for urban renewal.

How did this site become a park?

The triangle was managed by Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), who commissioned landscape architect Lee Weintraub to design a public space named BAM Park. Opened in 1984, the park hosted local concerts by the Brooklyn Music School where Betty Carter took cello lessons and was a big supporter.

Unstable foundations from former structures caused the site’s closure in 2005 for more than a decade. In 2014, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnershipand the Empire State Development Corporation commissioned a new design by Quennell Rothschild landscape architects. The property was transferred to NYC Parks in 2018, and the park was completed in 2019.

The park has an open plan with gracious entryways that integrate the interior with the surrounding streetscape, preserving mature trees and providing more greenery. A raised deck serves as an ad hoc performance and programming stage and pre-cast concrete organically shaped “pebble benches” provide additional seating.

Who is this park named for?

This park was named in 2019 for Betty Carter (1929-1998), a legendary African American jazz artist who was a prominent resident of Fort Greene.

Born Lillie Mae Jones on May 16, 1929 in Flint, Michigan, Carter was raised in Detroit by her father, James Jones, a musical director at a local church, and her mother Bessie. Carter studied piano at The Detroit Conservatory of Music and soon after began singing with Charlie Parker and other great bop musicians. She became well known for her impeccable scat singing, bebop, and musical improvisation. That exposure led her to join Lionel Hampton’s band who dubbed her Betty Bebop which she used as a stage name until she ultimately changed it to Betty Carter.

Leaving the band in 1951, Carter toured the country and performed at notable venues including the Apollo Theater and The Village Vanguard. She subsequently recorded “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with Ray Charles, which made it on to the Billboard Top 100 in 1962.

Carter put her career on hold to raise her two sons, Myles and Kagle Redding. She returned to music a few years later as founder of Bet-Car Records where she put out five albums. She resumed touring and performing live at various events and concert halls. After much publicity, Carter signed with Verve where she released Look What I Got which won the Grammy for Best Female Jazz Vocal Performance.

Accolades for Carter include numerous industry awards, NEA Jazz Master, and the National Medal of Arts presented by President Bill Clinton in 1997. She died at her Fort Greene home at 117 St. Felix Street where she had lived since 1971.

Carter forged a relationship with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, performing at BAM on seven occasions between 1974 and 1995. Her legacy continues in the Jazz Ahead program which mentors emerging artists working under the tutelage of experienced artist instructors. Founded by Carter in 1993 at 651 Arts, an institutional affiliate of BAM, the program continues at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. Commenting on the function of this program, Carter said: “Regardless of the fact that jazz is considered one of the first of America's true musical statements, it cannot survive simply on reputation alone…We need to create a wider pool for young talent to emerge, to be seen, and to be heard…”

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