Instruments: Vocals
Date of Birth: September 13, 1948
Place of Birth: Birmingham, Alabama

Nell Carter started out as a cabaret performer, then sprang to stardom in the musical revue "Aint Misbehavin'," for which she won a Tony award.

She's continued a successful career in the theater, including a revival of "Annie," winning acclaim such as the Outer Circle Critics Award, the Obie, and the Drama Desk Award.

On TV, Carter held recurring roles on the soap opera "Ryan's Hope" and the prime-time series "The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo" as police sergeant Hildy Jones.

Her biggest TV hit was as Nell on the sitcom "Gimme a Break" (1981-1987).

She has also worked in TV movies, specials and film.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame



View Misbehavin' by Nell CarterBorn on September 13, 1948, in Birmingham, AL; died on January 23, 2003, in Beverly Hills, CA; daughter of Horace L. and Edna Hardy; married second husband, George Krynicki (a mathematician and lumber company executive), May 1982 (divorced, 1989); children: (first marriage) Tracey Jenniece, (adopted) Joshua, Daniel

Education: Bill Russells School of Drama, 1970-73.

Politics: Democrat.

Religion: Born Presbyterian, but converted to Judaism in 1982.


Stage actress, 1971-03; television actress, 1972-03; film actress, 1979-99; singer, 1981-03.

Life's Work

Popular actress and singer Nell Carter was best known for her Emmy award-nominated role as the sassy housekeeper on the 1980s television sitcom, Gimme a Break. She originally made her name on the Broadway stage, however, winning a Tony award for her performance in the musical Ain't Misbehavin'. The performer died in 2003 from complications of diabetes, which she had struggled with for many years. At just four-feet-eleven-inches tall, Carter was "Blessed with a big voice and stage presence," Variety noted in an obituary. Robert Bianco concurred in USA Today. "Carter was known for a comic verve that leaned heavily on sass, a dance style that sent her entire body shaking, and a powerful, character-filled adenoidal voice that could move the rafters," he wrote.

Carter was born Nell Hardy on September 13, 1948, in Birmingham, Alabama, to Horace L. and Edna M. Hardy. One of nine children, she grew up listening to her mother's Dinah Washington and B.B. King records and her brother's Elvis Presley records. She claimed she originally aspired to become an opera singer, but cited such popular singers as Doris Day, the Andrews Sisters, Johnny Mathis, Cleo Laine, and Barbara Streisand among her influences. Carter's childhood was also marked by trauma. Her father was electrocuted after accidentally stepping on a live power line when she was young, and she was raped at gunpoint when she was 15. She grew up singing in her church choir, and began her career singing on the gospel circuit. "When I grew up, [performing] was not something you aspired to," Carter was quoted as saying by the Washington Post. "I was a weirdo to want to be in show business. Most kids wanted to be teachers or nurses." She was featured on a weekly radio show with a group called the Y Teens, and performed in coffeehouses and nightclubs in Birmingham before making her way to New York City at age 19.

In New York Carter studied acting and performed in such nightclubs as Reno Sweeney, the Village Gate, Dangerfield's, the Apartment, and the Rainbow Room. She made her stage debut in Soon, but really made a name for herself on the New York stage in the blockbuster Broadway musical Ain't Misbehavin', which was a revue of songs by Fats Waller. She won a Tony award in 1978 for the role. When Ain't Misbehavin'; was broadcast on TV in 1982, she earned an Emmy award for her performance. "She was a pioneer in many ways," fellow Tony award winner Audra McDonald told the Chicago Tribune. "She had the ability to be such an incredible comedic musical-theater actress, blow a song all the way to the back of the wall and then come down and be so intimate and beautiful in a ballad." Her other stage credits included Hello Dolly, Hair, Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Bubbling Brown Sugar.

In 1981, Carter took the role of Miss Nellie Ruth "Nell" Harper, a smart and sassy housekeeper on the television sitcom, Gimme a Break. She portrayed a matronly mother figure to a white California family headed by a widower who was the town police chief. The show ran until 1987, and gave Carter a place in popular culture. She earned two Emmy award nominations for her role, which "revived the archetype of the mammy, an African-American woman caring for a white family," Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times. In February of 1985, an episode of Gimme a Break was broadcast live--which was the first time a sitcom has aired live in almost 30 years. The cast performed the episode flawlessly, and at the end of the show, Carter "threw up her arms and yelled 'We did it!'" according to the Washington Post. She also appeared on television in the soap opera Ryan's Hope, on the acclaimed PBS special Baryshnikov on Broadway, and returned to TV for regular series roles in You Take the Kids and Hangin' With Mr. Cooper.

From early in her career until the mid-1980s, Carter struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. She was able to overcome her addictions through a 12-step program. Carter had also battled type-2 diabetes for years, and underwent two brain surgeries in 1992 to repair aneurysms. Even though Carter continued to perform through all of her medical problems, she was constantly in poor health. On January 23, 2003, her teenage son found her collapsed in her Beverly Hills home. When paramedics arrived, they declared her dead on the scene. The exact cause of death was not immediately known, but it was assumed to be from natural causes. At the time of her death, she was in rehearsals for a production of Raisin, a musical version of the classic drama Raisin in the Sun. She was survived by an adult daughter, Tracy, and two sons, Joshua and Daniel.

Despite her short stature, Carter "was a larger-than-life stage personality who never did things in half-measures," Stephen Holden wrote in the New York Times. Along with popular singers Patti LaBelle and Jennifer Holliday, he continued, Carter "belonged to a select circle of theatrical pop-soul belters whose members reveled in high-powered vocal flamboyance. A typical performance by Ms. Carter reached into the fabric of a song and tore out its seams with feral flourishes."


OBIE Award, Drama Desk Award, Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical, and Soho News award, all for Ain't Misbehavin', 1978; Emmy award for TV broadcast of Ain't Misbehavin', 1982.


Selected works


Hair, United Artists, 1979.
Modern Problems, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1981.
Back Roads, Warner Bros., 1981.
Bebe's Kids, Paramount, 1992.
The Grass Harp, Fine Line Features, 1995.
The Crazysitter, New Horizons, 1995.
The Proprietor, Warner Bros., 1996.
Fakin' Da Funk, Octillion Entertainment, 1997.
Follow Your Heart, 1997.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (animated), 1999.
Special Delivery, Calling Productions, 1999.
Perfect Fit, Atmosphere Films/Two Moon Releasing, 1999.
The Misery Brothers, 1999.


Ben Bagley's Everyone Else Revisited, Painted Smiles, 1981.
Kurt Weill Revisited, Painted Smiles, 1982.
Kurt Weill, Volume 2, Painted Smiles, 1982.
Leonard Bernstein Revisited, Painted Smiles, 1983.
Also recorded Ain't Misbehavin'; (original cast album); To Life! Chanukah and Other Jewish Celebrations; Misbehavin'! (with the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus).

Television movies

Cindy, ABC, 1978.
Final Shot: The Hank Gathers Story, 1992.
Maid for Each Other, NBC, 1992.
Sealed with a Kiss, 1999.
Television series
Ryan's Hope, ABC, 1975.
Lobo, NBC, 1980-81.
Gimme a Break, NBC, 1981-87.
227, NBC, 1989.
Santa Barbara, 1990.
You Take the Kids, CBS, 1990.
Jake and the Fatman, 1992.
Hangin' with Mr. Cooper, ABC, 1993-95.
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, 1995.
Can't Hurry Love, CBS, 1996.
Sparks, UPN, 1997.
Touched by an Angel, CBS, 2001.
Blues Clues, Nickelodeon.
Television specials
Baryshnikov on Broadway, ABC, 1980.
Ain't Misbehavin', NBC, 1981.
The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast, NBC, 1984.
The 10th Annual Circus of the Stars, CBS, 1985.
Night of 100 Stars II, ABC, 1985.
Never Too Old to Dream, NBC, 1986.
Evening at Pops, PBS, 1987.
Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration, CBS, 1988.
The Presidential Inaugural Gala, CBS, 1989.
The 4th Annual American Comedy Awards, ABC, 1990.
Welcome Home, America! A USO Salute to America's Sons and Daughters, ABC, 1991.
The Jaleel White Special, ABC, 1992.
The 65th Annual Academy Awards Presentation, ABC, 1993.
The 48th Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1994.
My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies, 1999.
Theater performances
Soon, Ritz Theatre, New York City, 1971.
Ain't Misbehavin', Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City, 1978 then Longacre Theatre, New York City, 1978-1979 and Plymouth Theatre, New York City, 1979-1981.
Ain't Misbehavin'; (revival), Ambassador Theatre, New York City, 1988-1989.
Hello, Dolly!, Long Beach Civic Light Opera, Long Beach, CA, 1991.
Annie, Martin Beck Theatre, New York City, 1997.
Also appeared in Don't Bother Me, I Can't Cope, Edison Theatre, New York City; Hair; Dude; Jesus Christ Superstar; Bury the Dead; Rhapsody in Gershwin; Blues Is a Woman; Black Broadway; Miss Moffat; Bubbling Brown Sugar; Be Kind to People Week; The Vagina Monologues.
Further Reading
Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 37, Gale Group, 2002.
Billboard, February 8, 2003, p. 52.
Chicago Tribune, January 24, 2003, p. 9.
Jet, February 10, 2003, p. 48.
New York Times, January 24, 2003, p. C19.
USA Today, January 24, 2003, p. D11.
Variety, January 27-February 2, 2003, p. 46.
Washington Post, January 24, 2003, p. B8.
"Nell Carter," All Music Guide, (March 19, 2003).
— Brenna Sanchez

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