Joe Evans, well-respected musician and founder of Carnival Records, died on Jan. 17 in Richmond, Virginia of undisclosed causes. He was 97 years old. 

Evans established Carnival in 1961. Affiliated with more than 30 solo artists and groups, the label was also home to the Manhattans, whom Evans signed in 1964. While with Carnival, the veteran R&B group first gained national prominence with the No. 12 R&B hit “I Wanna Be (Your Everything)” followed by the top 20 hits “Searchin’ for My Baby” and “Follow Your Heart.”

Carnival was the culmination of a professional career that took root in 1939. Born Joseph James Evans on Oct. 7, 1916 in Bonifay, Florida and raised in Pensacola, Evans moved to New York City and began honing his skills as a multi-instrumentalist. Playing alto and baritone saxophone, flute and clarinet, he performed in the U.S. and Europe in the ‘40s and ‘50s with bands led by such celebrated talents as Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Lunceford, Cab Calloway and Thomas “Fats” Waller.

His credits also include playing with Charlie “Bird” Parker and John Coltrane plus backing such singers and groups as the Nat King Cole Trio, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, the Impressions, Sarah Vaughn and Harry Belafonte. During the ‘60s, Evans was a fixture with the Motown Revue, playing behind Stevie Wonder, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye, among others, and also worked as a Motown studio musician.

Retiring from music, he earned a master’s of education from Rutgers University before starting a new career as a dairy inspector for the state of New Jersey. With Dr. Christopher Brooks, Evans co-authored his 2008 autobiography, “Follow Your Heart: Moving with the Giants of Jazz, Swing and Rhythm and Blues.”

Evans is survived by his son Thomas James and two great-grandchildren among other relatives.

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