Renowned Violinist Regina Carter’s Dual Calling as an End-of-Life Doula

by Madonna

Regina Carter, the celebrated violin virtuoso, whose musical prowess has garnered global recognition, prestigious awards such as the 2023 NEA Jazz Masters honor, and the 2006 MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” is also quietly excelling in a profoundly compassionate role as an end-of-life doula. While known for her solo performances and collaborations with music legends like Dolly Parton, Wynton Marsalis, and Mary J. Blige, Carter has made a remarkable impact in a different sphere.

When not gracing concert stages, recording studios, or instructing students at the Manhattan School of Music, Carter extends her talents as a violin-playing doula to critically ill patients in their final stages of life. This lesser-known aspect of her life’s work is a testament to her selflessness and dedication.


“I love that I get to travel the world playing this music,” Carter remarks. “But I also use my music not only to play on stage but to do hospice and end-of-life work. Using my music for that is extremely rewarding. I usually do it for individuals, but sometimes, I’ll go into a nursing home.”


Carter’s journey as an end-of-life doula evolved from over 15 years of volunteering in hospice care during her free time. It was the passing of her mother in 2006 that ignited her desire to use music as a source of comfort for those nearing the end of their lives.


“My mother was in hospice care, and I came off the road from touring to be with her,” she reflects. “Seeing how many people—especially elderly people—didn’t have anyone coming to visit them hit me hard.”

Carter’s album, “I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey” released in 2006, was a heartfelt tribute to her mother. Featuring timeless classics like “Little Brown Jug” and “St. Louis Blues,” the album served as a therapeutic outlet for Carter as she navigated the grieving process.

When asked about the choice of music for providing solace to hospice patients, Carter notes, “Well, you can’t go wrong with classics from the Great American Songbook, unless the patients are very young people. You have to figure it out before you go in. Every situation is different.”

Carter’s dedication to using her musical talent to bring solace to those in need reflects her profound compassion. Top flutist and jazz educator Holly Hofmann, a close friend and collaborator of Carter, commends her for her altruistic spirit. “Regina has set the standard by which jazz violin is being judged,” says Hofmann. “There just isn’t anybody else that accomplished and soulful who is engaged in jazz.”

Classically trained from a young age, Carter’s career has been marked by innovation. She became the youngest member of the Detroit Civic Symphony at just 12 years old and earned her place as a jazz pioneer through her groundbreaking work. Her diverse albums, such as “Reverse Thread” and “Southern Comfort,” showcase her ability to blend different music styles seamlessly.

One of the defining moments of her career came in 2001 when she performed in Genoa, Italy, with a historic violin known as “Il Cannone” (“The Cannon”). This 1742 instrument, made by Bartolomeo Giuseppe Guarneri, was owned and played by classical violinist Niccolò Paganini. Carter became the first woman, the first Black American, and the first jazz artist to play this invaluable violin, which is usually reserved for classical virtuosos.

Regina Carter’s commitment to making music that transcends genres and her compassionate work as an end-of-life doula continues to inspire and uplift those she touches. Whether through her remarkable performances or her dedication to bringing comfort in life’s final moments, Carter’s music resonates deeply with audiences and patients alike.

Her latest album, “Swing States: Harmony In The Battleground,” released in 2020, carries forward her tradition of using music to convey powerful messages, this time delving into social and political themes.

Regina Carter’s remarkable journey from a prodigious violinist to a compassionate end-of-life doula underscores the profound impact that music and empathy can have on the human experience.


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