Soul veteran Jean Carne: ‘Duke Ellington was a wonderful, grandfatherly gentleman’

She hung out with Earth, Wind & Fire, helped coach Michael Jackson and was the last person to sing with The Duke. Now Jean Carne is enjoying an unexpected second spell in the limelight

At 21, the singer Jean Carne had uprooted her life in Atlanta, Georgia, to elope to Hollywood with jazz pianist Doug Carn. It was 1969, and like so many American kids of the flower-power years, Carne was moving west to try her luck in the world of entertainment.

While most of her generation would have struck out, Carne found herself living in an apartment block with members of a new funk collective from Chicago. These vegetarian men, who expounded on the benefits of clean living and astrology called themselves Earth, Wind & Fire. Doug and Jean soon hit it off with the band, recording backing vocals and keys on their first two albums, and even adopting their vegetarianism. The group went on to sell more than 90m records, becoming one of the best-selling pop acts of all time.

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