Terri Lyne Carrington More Women Drummers


Terri Lyne


(1965 --     )

Jazz percussionist,


recording artist

and record producer

Terri Lyne CarringtonTerri Lyne Carrington

Terri Lyne Carrington plays drums Terri Lyne Carrington plays drums

Listen to Terri Lynn perform "Michelle" at Berklee in 2014. TLC Youtube

1965-1976: A Musical Heritage and A Child Prodigy

1965 Prices and Events

   One night in Boston in 1965, Matt Carrington, who had played drums with Fats Waller and Chu Berry, suffered a fatal heart attack after a gig. In the family tradition, his son, Sonny Carrington, was already playing saxophone in Boston bands that accompanied traveling artists like singer James Brown.

Six months after Grandfather Matt died Terri Lyne Carrington was born in Medford, MA. Although both her father and grandfather had attended college, intending to be full-time musicians, the need to support their families forced them to take day jobs and relegate their music-making to nights and weekends. [6]

Bread: .21/loaf   

Milk: 1.05/gallon

Car: $2,350 

Gas: .31/gallon

House: $21,500

Average Income: $7,704/year

Minimum Wage: $1.25/hour

President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) 

Hot toys: G.I. Joe, Easy Bake Oven, Bobblehead Beatles Dolls

                  At right: L-R: Sonny Carrington, Terri, and bluesman B.B. King

The Carrington home was a gathering place for jazz musicians who played Boston area clubs. “It was pretty musical around my house,” Terri later said. Her mother Judith had studied classical piano for nine years and played duets at home with a friend. Her father played records for her, and at five, she could already play “Tangerine” on saxophone. But after loosing her baby teeth, she couldn’t play sax anymore. She picked up her grandfather’s drumsticks, and at seven, she inherited his drum set. "I had natural talent,” she says. “I could keep time immediately. My father showed me a few things. I progressed and he got me a teacher.”[2]   

Terri Lyne Carrington, B.B. King Terri Lyne Carrington, B.B. King

   Her teacher was master drummer Alan Dawson, who taught many drum greats like Tony Williams, Steve Smith, and Jeff Watts. [5] When she was 10, her father began taking her to jazz clubs and she often sat in with the greats. News of the child prodigy spread, especially after she played her first major performance at the Wichita Jazz Festival with world-renowned jazz trumpeter Clark Terry.

   Drummer Buddy Rich was so impressed he asked her to sit in with his band and convinced Zildjian and Slingerland to give her endorsements. She became Zildjian's youngest endorsee. She now endorses Yamaha Drums, Zildjian Cymbals & Sticks, and Remo Drum Heads. [1,6]


   Her father’s jazz world connections proved invaluable. One night he took Terri backstage to meet Oscar Peterson and other musicians he knew. Two nights earlier she had played with Clark Terry. When she mentioned this, Peterson said: “You played two sets with Clark Terry? Well, I’ve got to hear this!”

   He led his band back onstage so she could play with them, to the delight of the now-departing audience. Among them were Lawrence and Alma Berk, co-founders of Berklee College of Music. They were so impressed they offered her a full scholarship, at age 11, the youngest musician ever to be so honored. [6]

Top Songs:

Yesterday (Beatles), You've Lost The Lovin' Feelin' (Righteous Brothers)

Top Books: Why We Can't Wait,  by Martin Luther King Jr, Autobiography of Malcom X, Alex Haley/Malcom X;

On TV: Hogan's Heroes spoof WWII German POW camps; women have  supernatural powers on Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. The Beatles are on The Ed Sullivan Show.

1965 Notable Events:

Malcom X assassinated.

Two astronauts orbit the Earth. Birth control pill developed (1960). The Supreme Court rules that states cannot ban sale of contraceptives to married people. Amended to include everyone, regardless of marital status, 1972. [7]

Two political issues dominate the 1960s:

The Civil Rights Movement and anti-war sentiment against the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.  

   When the civil rights movement began, the voting rolls in Selma, AL, (like many cities in the South) were 99 percent white. College students picketed the White House. In August 1963, 200,000 people marched on Washington and heard Martin Luther King, Jr's now-famous "I Have a Dream" speech. [9]

Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Terri Lyne Carrington and Nelson MandelaTerri Lyne Carrington and Nelson Mandela

   "It is time to stop being ashamed of being black--time to stop trying to be white. When you see your daughter ... with her nappy hair, her wide nose and her thick lips, tell her she is beautiful. TELL YOUR DAUGHTER SHE IS BEAUTIFUL." -- Stokely Carmichael  [9]

   "Say it loud--I'm black and I'm proud." -- singer James Brown.  [9]


Two days after Terri Lyne Carrington was born, President Lyndon Johnson signed, on August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act to guarantee African-Americans the right to vote. [9]

Photo left: Years later Terri met South African rights activist Nelson Mandela 

   U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia began during the administrations of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. In 1962 U.S. troops suffered their first casualties. After the JFK assassination, President Johnson abandoned his earlier stance against involvement in Vietnam and sent more troops. Angry young men burned draft-cards. As more and more men were drafted and killed, Americans became more and more disturbed by TV footage of U.S. soldiers coming home in coffins, photos of napalm-scarred Vietnamese children, and reports of the damage done by U.S. chemical defoliation of enemy territories.  [9] 

In 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. and 46 Harvard professors announced an antiwar campaign. In 1964 President Lyndon Johnson had won the most popular votes in U.S. history, but due to growing opposition to the war, he announced he would not seek re-election in 1968. Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. Vice President Hubert Humphrey ran against Richard Nixon in November. Nixon won, promising to pull U.S. troops out of Vietnam, but by 1970 the Vietnam War had spread to neighboring Laos and Cambodia. [9]

1976 -- 1983:  New Challenges and Life-long Friends at Berklee

   One day a week during high school Terri studied theory and piano at Berklee. She continued to study with Alan Dawson and gave drum clinics at schools and colleges around the country. [1,3]  In 1972 the 16-year old bebop sensation cut her first record, TLC and Friends, a privately released album with Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, George Coleman and her dad, Sonny Carrington. [1]


   After high school she attended Berklee for three semesters, studing arranging, theory and composition, and performing with talented newcomers like Greg Osby, Kevin Eubanks and Branford Marsalis. “Berklee did wonders for me as far as skills like arranging, writing, and harmony,” she said. “It’s a competitive environment, so you either sink or swim. The best part was [meeting] people with the same goals, people who will be [your friends] for the rest of your life.” [3]

  The national press had been quick to notice the novelty of the “young female drummer playing with the big boys,” but musicians who heard her play recognized the talent behind the publicity, a talent that insured her continued success later after the novelty wore off. [3] Jack DeJohnette, Down Beat’s perennial poll winner as the world’s best drummer, took her under his wing. [2]  He encouraged her to move to New York. While at Berklee, she did a few scenes in the Harry Belafonte movie Beat Street. The money she earned allowed her move to New York in 1983. [3] 

1983: New York City and New Directions


   She found work with Clark Terry right away. [3] About her transition from child prodigy to adult professional, she said: “I had a special talent, I guess, but I didn’t feel like a virtuoso. Swing either is or it isn’t. It’s not something you teach a kid. I could swing at a young age. I understood the vocabulary of jazz without studying it, just by listening. I was never comfortable with the term [prodigy]. Staying power is what makes you in the end. [6]


   “The greatest musicians never stop growing. I’ve worked with some incredible masters. They work  with up-and-coming people to keep themselves young. They found the key to staying young. Keep growing and not become stagnant, and to do music of today instead of music of yesterday. [3]


   She went to jazz clubs and made friends with her own generation of jazz musicians like Geri Allen, Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Cassandra Wilson and Dave Holland. The gender bias against female drummers who had preceded her didn’t hold in her case. “For one thing, she could play,” one club owner said of the exciting young drummer with the perfect time. [2]

Eighteen years after Terri was born, the world was far different. Food, car and house prices had quadrupled. Average salaries did too, but the minimum wage increased far less: from $1.25/hour to $3.35/hour. 

1983 Prices  

Bread: .54/loaf    Milk: 1.89/gallon  

House: $89, 900  Car: $10, 606

Gas: 1.23/gallon  Ave. Income: $28,638/year  Minimum Wage: $3.35/hour

Top Songs: Thriller (Michael Jackson), Flashdance (Irene Cara), Say Say Say (Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney) he hit movie Flashdance altered dance and fashion styles. CDs began to replace records.

On TV: The sitcom Webster premiered on ABC on Sept. 16, 1983. African-American child star Emmanuel Lewis played the lead role as 5-year-old orphan Webster Long. Laverne & Shirley, All in the Family, Cagney and Lacey, Cheers, Hill Street Blues. TV anchorwoman Christine Craft, fired for her age and appearance, was awarded $500,000 (later overturned). [8]


   Terri led her own group at Cobi Narita’s jazz center and played with others at prestigious clubs. On the bandstand she wore fashionable jumpsuits with bold patterns.

   She exuded self-confidence, which she attributes to her father, who nurtured her talent and set high standards for her. “He didn’t care if I was nine or ninety, male or female. He said all anyone would ever care about was if I could play.” [2]

Terri Lyne Carrington plays drumsTerri Lyne Carrington plays drums

   But some were still shocked to see a woman playing the drums. “Some musicians were fine and some were full of it,” she said, referring to negative vibes. “I can feel them from people who are insecure.” But as time went on people were less startled. “They might say, ‘Wow, there’s a girl. She can play, she can swing.’” For the most part, Terri ignores prejudice. “I don’t pick up on it. It’s a waste of time. I get along with all the men musicians, and I always have. It’s becoming passé, that mentality.” [2]


   During her Berklee years, straight-ahead jazz was her passion.[3] In New York she sought other types of gigs and played a broad range of music. The first was with Wayne Shorter. “His music was more fusion [jazz-rock],” she said.

   “Then I worked with David Sanborn, which to me is instrumental R&B. I’ve always liked playing different things. The more contemporary music I played, the more I wanted to do on my own.” [3]

    Her biggest problem was pacing herself. She played festivals, record and club dates with Lester Bowie, Pharaoh Sanders, the NY Jazz Quartet, Woody Shaw, John Faddis, John Abercrombie and James Moody. In 1987 she toured with David Sanborn, Wayne Shorter and Stan Getz. [2]

Grete Waitz wins 1st all-woman Marathon in Helsinki. Astronaut Sally Ride was the 1st woman in space, Astronaut Guion Bluford the 1st African American. Pro-choice advocates celebrate the 10th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

  After the Soviet Union admits shooting down a Korean airliner (269 people died), President Ronald Reagan labels the Soviet Union the "Evil Empire" and proposed a missile defense system, popularly known as "Star Wars" He also signed a law making the birthday of slain civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr a national holiday. 

  The U.S. invades the Caribbean nation of Granada, allegedly to protect 1,100 American citizens and students living there. Interior Secretary James Watts resigns under pressure after describing 5 commission members as "a black, a woman, two Jews, and a cripple." Jesse Jackson announces he will run for President in 1984.  

1988 – 1989: A Major-label Debut and The Arsenio Hall Show

   In 1988 Terri recorded her own album as leader for PolyGram, part of it in Los Angeles where her friend pianist Patrice Rushen lived. Released in 1989, Real Life Story mixed fusion grooves with progressive jazz and pop-oriented vocal tracks with Terri singing lead.

   The album showcased many of her friends and admirers: Grover Washington, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, John Scofield, Patrice Rushen and Gerald Albright. [3] The album won a Grammy nomination for Best Fusion Jazz Album.  Terri was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for a New Artist. [2]


   She toured Europe with Niels Lan Doky, an exciting Danish-Vietnamese jazz pianist whom she’d met at Berklee. Upon her return to California, a friend said Arsenio Hall was asking about her.

   She auditioned and became the first staff drummer for The Arsenio Hall Show. Soon her photo appeared on magazine covers and she became a celebrity recognized wherever she went. [2] The job paid  $57,200/year plus benefits, financial security that allowed her to pick and choose other gigs. When Real Life Story came out, Arsenio featured it on his show (watch a clip--below). But the daily routine was confining. After 4 months, she left the show to pursue other interests. Her musical and professional goals had changed.     

An Agreeable Climate and Financial Security 


   Although she was far from home and family, California agreed with her. Along with pianist friends Patrice Rushen and Geri Allen, she played on Wayne Shorter’s 1998 album, “Joy Rider,” unique in its time for the number of women instrumentalists in a mixed-gender group.  [2]


   “Prejudice against women players is not happening [here],” she said. “The pop music musicians have respect for women, or at least for me. It’s becoming more fashionable in the crossover environment to hire a woman. They’re using women instrumentalist for videos. They even audition a woman just because she’s a woman.” [3]       Photo at right: © CobosPhotography

Terri Lyne Carrington and cymbals Terri Lyne Carrington and cymbals

1990s: A Successful Decade  

TLC thoughts on jazz and the black community and drumming

   At Berklee, her goal had been to land a record deal to do a straight-ahead acoustic jazz album that might sell 50,000 copies. But by 1991 that goal had changed. “I want to sell a half-million copies," she said. "I want to make a difference. My ultimate goal is to have my own label, to be a major record company person. There haven’t been any women, and there haven’t been too many black people. My long, long, long term goal is to be like David Geffen or Herb Alpert. [3]


   She recorded a second album for PolyGram, but it was never released. She wanted to sing more and move in an alternative rock direction. “They wanted some R&B,” she said, “which I can write, but I’m not an R&B singer. Long story short, the record had alternative music, R&B, and jazz, which made it lose focus. When we finished, nobody knew what to do with it.” [3]


   Nevertheless, she worked non-stop performing or recording with others. For a time she played with saxophonist Stan Getz. After Getz died, she worked with singer Al Jarreau, including a Playboy Jazz Festival performance at the Hollywood Bowl.

   She recorded with Joe Sample and Donny Hathaway’s daughter, singer Lalah Hathaway. In 1993 she played on pianist David Benoit’s album and two albums by saxophonist Gary Thomas.

   That year she bought a condo in Glendale, CA. Compared to Boston and NY, she said, “LA is a new city and it’s health oriented. I work out in a gym, eat healthy foods, and I like the social and political activism here.” [2] She also taught at the University of Southern California. [6]  For the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta she co-produced “Always Reach for Your Dreams,” a song featuring Peabo Bryson, commissioned by the Atlanta Olympic committee. [7]   

   From 1997 to 1998, TLC was house drummer five nights/week on a late night TV version of the hip hop magazine VIBE. She played R&B and hip hop, but no jazz.

  “The black community is not listening to jazz," she said in 1997. "Jazz has been supported by an elite group of listeners. It’s too bad that younger generations, people under forty, didn’t grow up listening to jazz.

  The common people have not had the same resources [as] upper class people ... They’ve only had access to what’s on radio in their community. In the 50s and 60s, they played jazz on those stations.” Most now play R&B and hip hop. [6]

“... [R&B and hip hop tell] black people what’s going on in their community. Jazz didn’t do that. In jazz they sing standards. There’s more concentration on instrumentalists, which cuts out the spoken-word aspect.” [6]

In her own compositions, “Lyrics add another color .... You can do more with a voice than with an instrument. Lyrics are really important. I want to reach the average person, not just the jazz audience. It’s important to say something with the lyrics. Instrumental music isn’t going to reach them.” [3]

On Drumming: “Someone said: the bass is the heartbeat of the band and the drums are the blood. Drums lay the foundation. A band is really only as good as its drummer. You have to have the basics: time, dynamics ... but the energy you put behind the music is what moves the band. You can get away with having an adequate bass player, keyboard player, or guitar player, but you HAVE to have a good drummer.” [3]


    In 1998, along with Joni Mitchell and Stevie Wonder, she played on Herbie Hancock's Grammy Award winning CD, Gershwin's World.


   Photo at Rt: Terri and pianist-composer-bandleader Herbie Hancock


  Over the years Terri has toured the U.S. and countries around the world with Hancock's electric and acoustic bands. [6]                      

Terri Lyne Carrington and Herbie Hancock Terri Lyne Carrington and Herbie Hancock

 2000: New Directions for a New Century

   After an impressive career that included music ranging from traditional to avant-garde, classical to pop, and jazz, funk and rock, she shifted focus to composing, arranging and producing the CDs of artists like Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Gino Vannelli, and Danish pop singers Stig Rossen and Monique. The Dianne Reeves CD, That Day, hovered at the top of the charts for months. [1]


   In 2002 she acted as leader on Jazz Is A Spirit (ACT). The album won critical acclaim in Europe and Japan, combining her respect for tradition with innovations that explore new territory and defy strict categories. On one cut, Herbie Hancock, Kevin Eubanks, Gary Thomas and Bob Hurst join her in a tribute to Wayne Shorter, her spiritual mentor. [4]

   In liner notes written by Angela Davis, Terri affirms her lifelong commitment to jazz by quoting Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, who have said that they “are not playing music, but are just playing life.” Davis adds: “In the tradition of drummers like Max Roach and Jack DeJohnette, Terri anchors the rhythm section and at the same time ... [leads] her music mates on a journey from East to West, from the past through the present and into the future.” [4]

  One of her proudest accomplishments was receiving an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Berklee College of Music, in 2003. [1] Not long after, she became a Berklee professor.


   Her 2004 CD, Structure (Act), was a co-led effort with Greg Osby, Adam Rogers and Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip. [1]  

Hit Like a Girl!

   Terri is a spokesperson for “Hit Like a Girl,” a project whose goal is to show young girls that women can successfully make a living playing drums. “I feel the need to encourage anyone male or female that is interested in playing,” Terri says, “but it seems women do not have as much encouragement. People believed in my talent. I was encouraged and supported all the way. I need to pass that ... good fortune along!” [5]


Drummer Allison Miller, another “Hit Like a Girl”spokesperson, emphasizes the need for female role models: “It is so important for young female drummers to open a musician magazine and see articles and ads featuring women drummers. As a little girl, it seemed natural for me to be a drummer, but when I opened drumming magazines I ... couldn’t connect with the content. There were never any women in the magazines. The only women would be modeling the latest drumming T-shirt.” [5]


    In October 2008, Terri’s Quartet performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. 

Her vibrant 2009 CD, More to Say ... Real Life Story: NextGen, features a range of styles: fusion, funk, R&B, Latin, African percussion, and classic jazz. Terri wrote or co-wrote most of the tracks, which feature musicians she has worked with in her 20-plus year career: George Duke, Jimmy Haslip, Robert Irving III, Christian McBride, Patrice Rushen, and Dwight Sills, to name a few.

     Jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson sings one song, which Terri calls “a dream come true. [Nancy Wilson] brought life to this song. She’s one of the few great jazz singers left. I love and respect her artistry.” Of the album, she says: “This is an honest depiction of the NextGen TLC ... ready to explore all the possibilities of the new communications and technology frontier. This is what can level the playing field globally, bringing the world closer together.” [7] 

   When her performance and recording schedules allow, Terri teaches at Berklee College of Music and presents drum clinics around the globe.

Watch Terri Lyne on the Arsenio Hall Show includes clip of a very young TLC!

Listen to Terri Lyne with Stan Getz on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson


LEGACY: In the words of Angela Davis: “Even when she was very young, and Dizzy Gillespie said “Oooowee Man, she’s mean! She’s good, man! That little girl can play!” he was not necessarily suggesting that he would expect better playing from a boy. She has significantly transformed the way we think about jazzwomen, and how we think about jazz. Jazz is a spirit and thanks to Terri, that spirit is extricating itself from its exclusively male history. [4]

ROLE MODELS, MENTORS AND INFLUENCES: Her parents, especially her father Sonny Carrington who guided her early career. Alan Dawson, her teacher, and Wayne Shorter, her spiritual advisor. Jack DeJohnette was a mentor and a huge influence, along with Herbie Hancock and earlier drum greats like Papa Jo Jones and many others.


GENDER BIAS: “There are a lot more women playing and coming into their own," Terri says. "It’s no longer a matter of women being fashionable or a fad. It’s really serious. When a woman says she plays, you have to listen and find out now.” [2] 

Awards and Recognitions: 

1988 and 1989: Boston Music Award

1989: Grammy Nomination  and NAACP Image Award Nomination

Berklee College of Music Distinguished Alumna Award

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, City of Boston

Eubie Blake Award

IAJE Award for Outstanding Service to Jazz Education

National Association of Jazz Educators Young Talent Award


Clinics and Workshops too numerous to list: including the Los Angeles Public Schools, Massachusetts Public Schools, Alabama State University, Howard University, Michigan State, Notre Dame University, Purdue University, and the University of Puerto Rico.


Terri Lyne Carrington as leader:

TLC and Friends (1972) privately released

Real Life Story (1988), Polygram (Grammy nominated)

                              (co-produced with Robert Irving)

Jazz is a Spirit (ACT) 2002

Structure (ACT) 2004, co-led with Greg Osby

More to Say ... (Real Life Story: NextGen) 2009

Terri as Producer:

Dianne Reeves - That Day... (sole producer-entire project); Blue Note

Monique - The Woman For You (co-produced with Niels Lan Doky) Polygram Denmark

Stig Rossen - Letters Of Love (co-produced with Niels Lan Doky) Polygram Denmark

The Doky Bros. 2 (co-produced 3 tracks with Niels Lan Doky) Blue Note Denmark: with Gino Vannelli, David Sanborn, Dianne Reeves

Dianne Reeves - Art and Survival (co-produced 1 track with Eddie DelBarrio) EMI

Selected Recordings with Terri as side-person:

Herbie Hancock: Gershwin’s World                                       (Grammy Award)

Rufus Reid:  Seven Minds 

Mulgrew Miller: Work, Chapters 1 & 2: Keys to the City

Michele Rosewoman: Quintessense 

Dianne Reeves: I Remember, Art & Survival,

               Quiet After The Storm, That Day

Niels Lans Doky:  Daybreak 

Doky Brothers:  Doky Brothers, Vol 1 & 2

John Scofield: Flat Out, Liquid Fire

Cassandra Wilson: Blue Skies

Rachel Z: Room Of One's Own 

Wayne Shorter: Joy Ryder, High Life

Patrice Rushen: Anything But Ordinary 

John Patitucci:  Sketchbook

Eric Marienthal: Crossroads 

John Beasley: Change of Heart 

Nino Tempo: Live At Cicada 

Michael Wolff: 2 AM 

James Moody: Moody's Birthday Celebration

Live At The Blue Note, Moody Plays Mancini 


1. Website bio: www.terrilynecarrington.com 

2. Madame Jazz: Contemporary Women Instrumentalists, Leslie Gourse, 1995


3. "The Rhythms of Change," Andrew Taylor, Berklee Today, Fall 1991


4. Jazz is a Spirit, Album Liner Notes by Angela Davis, 2002


5. FemaleMusician.com, Theresa J. Orlando: 10 Questions with drummers TLC and Allison Miller. January 12, 2003


6. Jazzwomen: Conversations with Twenty-one Musicians, (Terri Lyne Carrington) by Wayne Enstice and Janis Stockhouse, 2004


7. Wikipedia, the Online Encyclopedia: Terri Lyne Carrington, 2008

Historical Sources:


7. American Women's History, Doris Weatherford, 1994


8. From Elvis to E-Mail, Paul Dickson,1990, 1999


9. This Fabulous Century: 1960-1970, Time-Life Books, 1988

© copyright 2008 Susan Fleet

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