Born 25 March 1921, Tunica, Mississippi
Died 12 June 1989, Gary, Indiana

Vivian Carter was the "Vee" of Vee-Jay Records, a Chicago-based label that she launched in 1953 with her husband, James Bracken. The label had evolved from their Gary, Indiana record store, Vivian's Record Shop. Staying on top of the city's blues and R&B scene, Carter was also employed as a deejay at the time. Vivian's brother Calvin Carter was brought in as A&R man. Originally, Carter and Bracken planned to make a few gospel recordings to satisfy the demands of their shop's customers, and over the years Vee-Jay issued stacks of wax by some of America's most righteous voices : the Staples Singers, the Swan Silvertones and others. However, the duo couldn't help noticing that the youngsters visiting their shop were chasing an entirely different sound, which is now known as doo- wop. The first national hit for Vee-Jay was "Goodnight My Love" by the Spaniels, which peaked at # 5 on the R&B charts, but in the pop market it was outsold by a white cover by the McGuire Sisters. The same fate befell their second doo-wop hit, "At My Front Door" by the El Dorados, which was covered by Pat Boone. "Oh What A Night" by the Dells (# 4 R&B, 1956) came at a time that the record buying public had come to prefer the black originals. However, the most impressive vocal group on Vee-Jay were the Impressions, led by Jerry Butler. The original release of "For Your Precious Love" on Vee-Jay 280 is worth $6000 according to Joel Whitburn. The rerelease on Abner (a Vee-Jay subsidiary) went to # 11 on the pop charts in 1958. At the end of that same year Butler went solo and had 16 chart entries (pop) on Vee-Jay, 1960-66. Other notable performers on the roster were Jimmy Reed, Dee Clark, Little Richard (in 1964-65) and Betty Everett. In a short time, Vee-Jay was the most successful black-owned record company in the United States. "Raindrops" by Dee Clark (1961) and "Duke Of Earl" by Gene Chandler (1962) were million sellers. By 1963, they were charting records faster than some of the major labels. They were the first U.S. company to have the Beatles. In one month alone in early 1964, they sold 2.6 million Beatles singles. Yet, two years later, the company was bankrupt. Paradoxically, the trouble started with the Four Seasons, Vee-Jay's first big white act. Though they scored three consecutive number ones (Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like A Man), Vee-Jay had trouble paying the very high royalties that Bob Crewe had negotiated for the Seasons. In spite of the million sellers, the label was still run like a small corporation. The company grew too fast. Enormous friction built up between the Brackens and the new management team. On top of this and the financial troubles, lawsuit followed lawsuit with the result that Vee-Jay lost both the Four Seasons and the Beatles. The label folded in 1966. Randy Wood and Betty Chiappetta bought Vee-Jay from the bankruptcy trustee in 1967. Both had been long-time employees of Vee-Jay before the bankruptcy. For the first several years, the new company, which was called Vee-Jay International, could barely survive on a few reissues and some leases to reissue companies like Springboard (Upfront) and Buddah. Vivian Carter returned to Gary where she was active in radio well into the 1980s. In the early eighties she had a stroke and died in a Gary nursing home in 1989.

The full Vee-Jay story is at The label's catalogue has been the subject of many reissues. Some compilations: Vee-Jay : The Very Best Of R&B (Collectables, 5 CD-set). 100 tracks. Vee-Jay Chicago's Blues Music (P-Vine, 4 CD's, 2002) Story of Vee-Jay (Metro, 2 CD's, 2002).

First rate piece by Dik.

In addition to the CD issues he mentioned, there is the three CD box set issued in 1993 by the then briefly reactivated Vee Jay label but this time based in New York City. Containing 75 tracks it is titled 'Celebrating 40 Years Of Classic Hits 1953 - 1993' (Vee Jay NVS2 -3-400). It includes a 24 page booklet and a red vinyl 45 of 'Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite' by The Spaniels.

The reactivation did not last too long (probably around two years) but they did manage to issue quite a bit of the catalogue. I believe the CDs were only available by mail order within the USA (I fortunately had a friend who went out of his way to obtain selected releases for me). The company then briefly went to the West coast and folded completely.


Tony Wilkinson

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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