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Carl Hall

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Biography

A gifted and powerful vocalist whose talent far outstripped his fame, Carl Hall made a name for himself as a gospel and soul singer as well as a performer on the legitimate stage. Carl Hall was born and raised in the West End of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (Hall's hesitance to discuss his age means no one is certain about his birthday), and got his start in music singing in church, as well as performing with choral groups at Herron Hill Junior High and Schenley High School. After graduating from high school, Hall was recruited by the Raymond Rasberry Singers, an Ohio-based gospel ensemble, and had become the group's lead singer by the time they cut a single for Vee-Jay Records, "I Thank You Lord," in 1954. The Rasberry Singers cut more sides for Vee-Jay, Savoy, and Choice Records before Hall left the group to serve in the Army. By 1962, Hall was once again a civilian and began pursuing a new career as a secular artist; he started playing nightclub dates in 1962, and in 1963 he headed to New York City, where he joined the cast of Tambourines to Glory, a gospel-based musical written by Langston Hughes and starring Clara Ward. In 1964, Hall scored a contract with Mercury Records, where he cut a cover of Frankie Laine's "I Believe" as C. Henry Hall. He was renamed Carl Henry Hall on his second Mercury single, "Summertime," and in 1965 he was billed as Carl Hall on "My Baby's So Good," which was co-produced by Quincy Jones. While Hall's sides for Mercury showed off his fine voice, none of them made any serious impression on the charts, and by 1967 he and the label had parted ways. But Hall had made the acquaintance of producer and songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, who was impressed enough with Hall's four-octave range that he helped him score a deal with Loma Records, a subsidiary of Warner Bros./Reprise that specialized in soul music. In November 1967, Loma released "You Don't Know Nothing About Love," a striking performance of a number written and performed by Ragovoy, while the similarly powerful "The Dam Busted" followed in the spring of 1968. Unfortunately, both singles received weak promotion from Loma, and the company went out of business months after "The Dam Busted" failed to hit, but Hall's Loma sides would later become prized collector's items among British Northern soul fans. In 1972, Hall landed a deal with Atlantic Records, and with Ragovoy at the controls, released an imaginative and soulful cover of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love." The single would prove to be Hall's only release for Atlantic after failing to hit the charts, and Hall would meet a similar fate at Columbia Records, cutting "What About You" in 1973 before parting ways with the label. Thankfully, by this time Hall was booking regular work as a session vocalist and backup singer, and his stage career was picking up, joining the cast of the Broadway show Inner City in 1971, which was directed and co-authored by Tom O'Horgan, who staged the original production of Hair. (Hall also appeared on the show's original cast album.) The same year, Hall was also one of the vocalists in Leonard Bernstein's debut performance of his controversial piece Mass; he also appeared on the original recording. In 1977, Hall joined the cast of the Broadway smash The Wiz, and played the title role in a 1984 revival of the show. Hall had a small role in the 1979 film version of Hair, and was also a backing vocalist for Bette Midler's 1980 stage show Divine Madness, and also appeared in the film version. In 1987 Hall cut a dance single, "I Just Like Makin' Love," which he wrote and helped produce as well as sang, and he returned to his musical roots in 1990 when he joined the cast of Truly Blessed, a musical that paid homage to the life and music of Mahalia Jackson. Hall was working as a vocal arranger for Stephanie Mills and was part of the music ministry at Richardson Memorial Spiritual Church in New York City when he died in September 1999. Some of Hall's unreleased material for Loma and Atlantic would appear on collections of soul rarities from Rhino Records, and in 2015 Omnivore Recordings released You Don't Know Nothing About Love: The Loma/Atlantic Recordings 1967-1972, which included the six sides he released through those labels along with 13 outtakes and unreleased performances. ~ Mark Deming