Founders of Vee-Jay Records
Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken; Vee-Jay Records
Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken were the “Vee” and “Jay” in Vee-Jay Records, at one time the largest black-owned record company in the world. Vee-Jay is renowned for its catalog of blues classics by Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Billy Boy Arnold, and many more, as well as doo-wop, soul, gospel and jazz gems, and pop hits by the Four Seasons and the Beatles. Vee-Jay’s expansion into the 1960s pop market was explosive, but led to financial and legal problems that finally brought its demise. Carter, who was a popular disc jockey, and Bracken began with a record store in Gary, Indiana, and borrowed $500 from a pawnbroker to launch their label in 1953 with the Spaniels and Jimmy Reed. The couple married that year in Chicago. Vivian’s brother Calvin Carter produced many of the label’s hits. After Vee-Jay’s Chicago offices were shuttered in 1966, Vivian went back to radio, while Jimmy Bracken tried his hand with J-V and other small labels he operated from a small record store in Chicago. Vivian Carter, who was born in Tunica County, Mississippi, on March 25, 1921, came to Gary with her parents as a youngster. She died in Gary on June 12, 1989. James C. “Jimmy” Bracken, born in Oklahoma on May 23, 1909 (or 1908 according to some sources), was raised in Kansas City, Kansas. He died in Chicago on Feb. 20, 1972. “Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken.” Blues Foundation, 10 Nov. 2016, blues.org/blues_hof_inductee/vivian-carter-and-jimmy-bracken/.