Lillian Carter, 64, singer, barmaid, Sears employee, billiards player

February 23, 1999|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Lillian Carter, a former East Baltimore barmaid and singer who was known as much for her skills as a pool player as for her sultry singing, died Thursday of heart failure while visiting friends in New York City.

Ms. Carter, 64, worked for many years at the old Pluto's Tavern in East Baltimore, where her duties included mixing drinks, serving customers and singing on weekends.

Perhaps she made the most money with her skill at pool.

"She was always so nice and sweet when she'd sit down and talk to you, but just don't let her get you on the pool table," said Glen White, a longtime friend and occasional opponent. "Then she'd take your money quick.

"People who knew her wouldn't play her for money. We'd like to sit back and watch her work on the newcomers. She'd pull a number on them."

Ms. Carter was known as "Lady Lil" and "Lucky Lil" and was one of the reasons the tavern in the Belair-Edison community was popular, friends said. She kept her pool cue stashed in a case behind the bar.

She had an Anita Baker-like voice, was good at conversation and never backed down from a billiards game.

She played some games that didn't involve wagers.

"She'd play you for practice, just kind of toy with you," said Kendall Williams, her former roommate. "People would watch her play and think she was beatable. She wasn't. She might give them a game, get them comfortable, then go for the wallet."

Although the tavern did not condone playing for money, the owners seldom enforced a no-gambling rule, Mr. Williams said. Tournaments were often held there -- with drinks or coupons as prizes -- and Ms. Carter was always a contestant.

"When she played for money, she could make a couple hundred dollars a night, easily," Mr. Williams said. "No one liked getting butchered by a woman, but at least she was pleasant when she pocketed your money."

A Baltimore native, Ms. Carter attended Frederick Douglass High School and lived much of her life in the Walbrook community. She did domestic work, and for many years worked for Sears, first at Mondawmin Mall and later at Security Square Mall.

From childhood, Ms. Carter sang at area churches and belonged to numerous gospel groups, including some that traveled to churches along the East Coast.

Friends said she learned her pool skills from her father, accompanying him to pool halls as a teen-ager and playing pool on a table in their garage.

"It probably was not one of the typical things that a father teaches his daughter, but it's something that she never forgot," Mr. White said.

Services were held yesterday.

Ms. Carter was divorced. She is survived by two daughters, Cathy Brogden of Oxon Hill and Mary Carter of Washington; a brother, Raynard Haynes of Baltimore; a sister, Sharon Robinson of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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