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              V I V I A N C A R T E R A N D V E E J A Y R E C O R D S
On December 24,1956, eleven-year-old Henry Farag opened a Christmas present. Inside the big, rectangular box was a crystal radio set. It took him more than a week to assemble the hodgepodge of wires, plastic, metal, and strange-looking pieces, including resistors, diodes, a headset, and a tiny transistor. When he had finished building the set and turned it on, at first all he heard was static, but one night, Farag recalled, “a booming, foreign- sounding, rapid-fire, throaty voice almost blew my skull apart. I heard a woman talking and these odd sounds in quick succession: Oh what a night / duo, duo, duo, / to hold you dear, oh what a night / dow, doo, dow / To squeeze you dear.”
A half-century later, Farag noted that his “face got flushed and my ears hot” as he listened. The voice coming over the air­waves belonged to Vivian Carter, the own­er of a fledgling record label called Vee Jay, and she was playing a song her company had recorded by a doo-wop group called the Dells from Harvey, Illinois. After that one listen, Farag was hooked for life.
Like thousands of African Americans from the Deep South, Carter’s parents moved north after World War I hoping for better opportunities for themselves and their children. Carter attended Pulaski School in Gary, Indiana, until it closed in 1933, and then transferred to Gary Roosevelt High School. Classmate YJean Chambers described her as lively, extro­verted, and full of fun, with a rich low alto
voice that seemed to have its own built-in microphone. An average student in most subjects, Carter excelled at the auditorium components of public speaking and the­ater that were central features of Superin­tendent William A. Wirt’s work-study-play system. After school let out, she waited tables at her mother’s restaurant in Mid­town, Gary’s black district, and bantered with the steelworkers who frequented the place before or after their shifts.
After graduating in 1939, Carter took classes at a business college and then joined the Quartermaster Corps as a clerical worker. During World War II she spent a year in Washington, D.C., but missed the Midwest and got transferred to Chicago, closer to family and old friends.
In 1948 disc jockey Al Benson held a
contest to select a young man and a young woman to host their own fifteen-minute programs on radio station WGES. When Carter showed up to audition, there were hundreds of others lined up to read a com­mercial that they had penned themselves. The male winner was Sid McCoy, who would go on to fame as the host of Soul Train. Carter was the female victor, and her career in broadcasting as a disc jockey was launched.
All was not smooth sailing in a male- dominated profession. Carter moved back to Gary and for a while worked in a millinery shop. She seized an opportunity that arose at WJOB in Hammond and then moved to WGRY and eventually to Gary’s premier station, WWCA. Her late- night program, Livin’ with Vivian, ran five
48 | T R A C E S | Winter 2011               

Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Winter 2011, Volume 23, Number 1

60 total pages