For over five decades, Carmen McRae was a leading jazz singer. Professionally, she started singing in 1939, but did not begin to get popular until she joined Benny Carter's big band in 1944. McRae subsequently performed with other major bands, including Count Basie and Mercer Ellington. She launched a sporadic film career, making a cameo appearance as a singer in the Tony Curtis vehicle The Square Jungle (1955). Similar appearances followed. In Richard Pryor's Jo Jo Dancer Your Life Is Calling (1986), McRae landed a real acting role, that of the title comedian's grandmother.