Saturday, November 5, 2011




Everyone knows about sacred ground where major events have occurred. But I have a sacred place that is sacred only to me now. It is the place where I first kissed my husband, Cliff Carter. It happened decades after I first met him.

No one passing that location would imagine that it is a sacred place. It is the site of a broken down, graffiti covered old motel and cocktail lounge on St. Jacques West in the area of NDG in Montreal. The old Raphael. It was always a seedy place, a haunt for Runyonesque characters. There was always an air of almost-danger in being there.
But Cliff Carter played the piano in the lounge there in the early 1970's, and wherever Cliff Carter was, there was elegance, grace and class. It was there in the lounge of the Raphael that I rediscovered Cliff and fell madly in love.
I would sit at the piano and sing with Cliff night after night. Suddenly Cliff's "contract" was cut short. That is - he was fired. Why ? I found out. The Roman Catholic Italian wife of the shady owner of the Raphael was put out by seeing a white woman with a coloured man in her lounge. She was not offended by the regular business of gangsters, gunmen and prostitutes who frequented her motel rooms, but our love, though polite and discreet, offended her.
Very soon Cliff found his next gig at The Astor Lounge facing the big T. Eaton Store on St. Catherine Street. We enjoyed a long and fruitful run there and I began bringing Cliff to the attention of the media. And every Friday, I would have Hill Florist on Westminster in Montreal West deliver a boutonniere of pink or yellow sweetheart roses for Cliff. It was always waiting for him at Alex's bar by the time he came to work. And the people there adored Cliff.

A little while ago, someone set fire to the Raphael and there was some damage. Yet still it stands. It will be a blessing for the community when it is torn down and cleared away.

But no matter what happens to those ruins, or what cold edifice is erected in its place, the ground at the old Raphael will always be sacred to me. Whenever I pass, I stop for at least a moment and let the memories envelope me. And, for at least a moment, I can feel again what I felt back then.

Cliff has been gone for nineteen years now, so I am the only one who knows how magical that bit of ground is. I am the only one who can feel our love and our music.
I have published our story on this blog to honour my beloved husband and to offer hope to those stubborn dreamers who still search for love.



Friday, October 14, 2011


One night in the 1970's, Alex Kotsos, the bartender at The Astor on St. Catherine Street in Montreal, handed Cliff a message an anonymous patron had written on a small cocktail napkin.
Silent and apparently depressed, the man had been drinking at the bar and listening to Cliff sing.
He handed the cocktail napkin to Alex and asked him to give it to the piano player, and he left.
I still have that cocktail napkin.
The man wrote  -
" Maybe without knowing,
You saved a life."

Monday, October 10, 2011


The autumn leaves
Of red and gold ...
I miss you most of all,
My Darling,
When autumn leaves start to fall ...
And at Christmas,
And Springtime,

Monday, April 4, 2011


And now the purple dusk of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart;
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart.

You wander down the lane and far away,
Leaving me a song that will not die.
Love is now the stardust of yesterday,
The music of the years gone by.

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely night dreaming of a song;
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you,
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration,
But that was long ago;
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song.

Beside a garden wall
When stars are bright,
You are in my arms.
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
Of paradise where roses bloom.

Though I dream in vain,
In my heart it will remain -
My stardust melody,
The memory of love's refrain.
March 25, 2011
In Memoriam
Nineteen Years
Night and day, you are the one.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011




John Cox

John Cox  said...

Wow. What an amazing life. Thank you for sharing this.

Phyllis Carter said...

I appreciate your interest, John Cox. In such a troubled world, it is so important to remember that there is real love and there are still people who love beautiful music.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Mr. Nostalgia,Cliff Carter


I was about eleven years old when I first laid eyes on Cliff Carter. I was working in my family's store, Metropolitan News, at the crossroads of the nation, Peel and St. Catherine Streets in Montreal, selling newspapers from all over the world. My family was teaching me the business. And Cliff, a singer and pianist, had just come to Montreal from the United States to play at The Clover Cafe across from the Montreal Forum.
As time passed, Cliff came to play in the Candlelight Room of the Diana Grill right next door to our store. I was too young to go down into the nightclub, but I could watch Cliff through the restaurant's storefront window and listen to his sweet music flowing out into the evening air over the loudspeaker. And that handsome man would look up at me and smile and make funny faces at the fat little girl in blue jeans.
And that teenage girl dreamed that one day, somehow, Cliff Carter would discover she could sing and invite her to be his partner. To me, he was always The Gentleman at the Piano. I listened to his radio shows and I started a fan club - and I sent all the fan mail myself. And he dedicated songs to me, and to my mother, and to my grandmother who also worked in our store selling Irish linens and fine English Bone China.
Decades later, Cliff would remind me that he would play a song I requested on his radio show. "Stella By Starlight". He remembered that. I didn't. Decades later, Cliff told me he had seen me riding a horse at the corner of Peel and St. Catherine in 1951 when I was fifteen. He remembered that. I didn't even know he had seen me.
I brought home every Hit Parade song book and I listened to the radio and memorized all the songs of the day. Someday he'll discover me. I studied theatre arts at the Montreal Repertory Theatre  - dramatics with Eleanor Stuart, voice and diction with Dorothy Danford, stage makeup with Griffith Brewer and history of the theatre, with Miss Stehle  I studied opera with Mme. Pauline Donalda, founder of The Montreal Opera Guild and co-star of Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso. Some day. One day.
I met so many fascinating people while working at Metro. Metropolitan News was my alma mater. Eddie Feigelman was an impresario - a theatrical agent - a big man with a big heart. One day, Eddie told my father that there was to be a Red Cross Blood Donors' Marathon at a Montreal armoury. All sorts of entertainers would take part. I overheard - and I dared to ask if I might have a chance to sing. Eddie said, maybe. I was surprised and thrilled when I received a telegram announcing that I was included on the program and a volunteer would come to drive me to the armoury. I was about sixteen.  I had never sung in public before. Thrilled, surprised - scared. I put on my salmon colour gown and my parents bought me a rose corsage. I still have that flower in a scrap book.
It was a cold, dark and icy night. The doorbell rang and a gentleman who identified himself as "Harry" waited to help me down the slippery steps to Uncle Harry's School Bus.
I had told Eddie Feigelman that I had no accompanist. Eddie said, "Don't worry about it." Don't worry about it? How could I perform in front of a huge audience and television cameras without an accompanist? God would provide. I went forward in a haze, my heart pounding with fear and anticipation.
The lights were out in Uncle Harry's School Bus. My guide told me there was one other passenger on the bus - "so don't get scared". There was only one person on the bus. I hadn't seen him in years. One person  - who happened to be the partner of my dreams - Cliff Carter.
That night, for the very first time, Cliff played for me to sing .When I stood up there on the stage in front of all those people and the lights and cameras, everything went white and I thought I would faint. I couldn't think of a word or a tune, Cliff played an arpeggio  - and my mind cleared and my pounding heart slowed down - and I opened my mouth, and I sang Blue Moon and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
I had never sung in public. I had never sung with an accompanist other than Peter Miller, my first singing teacher, and Mme. Donalda's sister, May Lightstone, who played for my lessons. I had never sung for Cliff before. And yet, when I opened my mouth to sing, he knew exactly what to play.

In 1957, Cliff returned to the United States. I had married " a nice boy" and settled down, but my heart had never settled. There was always something missing. I became more involved in politics and journalism. Twelve years passed and there was no word from Cliff. My dreams of becoming a singer were set aside like childhood's beloved toys - but they were kept in a secret place somewhere very deep in my heart. "Someday" had not yet come, and I didn't think about it. I just felt restless, insecure and incomplete. I loved my family but I rarely felt happy.
Cliff returned to Montreal in the late 1960's, but we rarely saw him. There followed years of turmoil in my life and, unbeknownst to me, also in Cliff's .
One day, my parents received a phone call from Cliff. He was playing at The Raphael in Montreal and he invited our family to come. It was Christmas time, 1971.
Cliff and I sat on the winding staircase in The Raphael to pose for a souvenir photograph. Something deep inside me stirred at that moment. Daylight. Awakening. I attributed it to sentiment. But I soon realized that it was something much richer. It was persistent and overwhelming and warm, and the newfound excitement brought hope back into my life. And terrible fear. There would be a lot of heartache before there could be any peace. Our incompatible marriages had both been on the rocks for years and had to be carefully dissolved before we could breathe freely. Out of the ashes of that painful transition, The Sheba - a new me - was born.
One January night in the late 1970's, Cliff was invited to play for a business party on the 34th floor of the Chateau Champlain Hotel in downtown Montreal. The baby grand piano stood by the bay window overlooking Dominion Square. Cliff played and we sang and the guests applauded. The guests surely thought I was singing for them. In truth, I never sang for the audience. I always sang for Cliff alone.
The white moon shone as I gazed down in awe at the park. The dark night was brightened by the sparkling snow and Christmas lights and the great church way down below looked like a pretty toy. Miniature cars and people scurried about. It felt like a dream.
Just then, I experienced a stunning revelation. It struck me like a zap of  lightening. From where I was standing at the bay window on the 34th floor of the Chateau Champlain Hotel, I could see the exact spot where, as a young girl, I had so often stood with my nose pressed against the window pane listening to Cliff play the piano in the Candlelight Room. I saw myself there, as I was back then - a young girl, enchanted. I felt now what I had felt back then. At that moment, I knew deep in my heart that there was a heaven watching over us.
" I believe in love. I believe in music."
Phyllis Carter  - The Sheba

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I am the Words,
You are the Music,
We are The Song !
The Sheba