Betty Carter Park

Betty Carter Park

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

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

The property, located opposite the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), once was 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. 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.

However, the former structures’ unstable foundations caused land subsidence and uneven terrain, which led ultimately to the site’s closure in 2005 for more than a decade. In 2014, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership issued a request for design proposals, and with financing from the Empire State Development Corporation, commissioned a new design by the well-known landscape architecture firm Quennell Rothschild. The property was transferred to NYC Parks in 2018, and the park was completed the following year and renamed for Betty Carter.

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 shortly thereafter, began singing with Charlie Parker and other great bop musicians. She became well known for her impeccable scat singing, bebop, and musical improvisation technique. This 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.

After 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 concentrate on raising 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.

Other accolades for Carter include numerous industry awards, NEA Jazz Master, and the National Medal of Arts presented by President Bill Clinton in 1997. The following year, she lost her battle with pancreatic cancer and died at her home on 117 St. Felix Street nearby in Fort Greene, where she had lived since 1971.

Over the years 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…”

The park was redesigned with a more open plan with gracious entryways that better integrates the interior with the surrounding streetscape, preserves mature trees, and provides more greenery and respite. A raised deck area provides a place for ad hoc performance and programming and pre-cast concrete organically shaped “pebble benches” designed by Quennell Rothschild, provide additional seating.  Thus, an improved and more hospitable park honors a neighborhood cultural icon.  

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