Monday, 31 March 2014

Happy International Transgender Visibility Day 2014!

How auspicious that today was when I received my official approval for gender confirmation surgery! Oh happy day! Now, the next chapter begins, with its own ups and downs, I'm sure.

As for visibility, I see more and more of our stories as trans* and genderqueer folks being told in the public sphere, in film and TV, in social media, and in book form. Lets all keep telling our stories and push to have a more authenticity and humanity in the portrayals of our lives in our media and culture. When we are truly visible, we bring immense value to the table of humanity.

Happy International Transgender Visibility Day!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Out Like a Lioness: Heroines of Soul Music, Part 2

Women's History Month ends today ... here are more somewhat lesser known legends of soul music, this time from the later 1960s.

Tami Lynn

New Orleans gave us many great soul singers, most famously Irma Thomas and the Dixie Cups. Tami Lynn was signed to the New Orleans based AFO (All For One) label in the early 1960s. It was there that she recorded her version of "Mojo Hannah" under the name Tammy Lynn, already recorded by Henry Lumpkin at Motown in 1962. She was signed to Atlantic in 1965 and released "I'm Gonna Run Away From You" on their ATCO label. Later still she released material on Atlantic's Cotillion label including an updated version of "Mojo Hannah" in 1971. She still performs today.

Betty Harris

Another New Orleans artist who started recording for the Jubilee label in 1963. Her deep soul cover of "Cry To Me" (written by Bert Berns and originally sung by Solomon Burke) nearly made the Billboard Top 20 that year. Between 1964 and 1968, Harris recorded a string of singles for Sansu, including "I'm Evil Tonight", "I Don't Want To Hear It" and another deep soul collectible "Nearer To You" (1967). Harris spent years out of the music business before coming back to it in 2004 and has been performing ever since.

Maxine Thomas

Truly obscure. I learned about her only from a track on the 1964 Folkways release Roots: The Rock and Roll Sound of Louisiana and Mississippi, recorded at Cosimo's Studio in New Orleans. The track is a cover of "Rome Wasn't Built In a Day" sung previously by Sam Cooke and Johnnie Taylor.

Helene Smith

As of 1967, Helene Smith was a fast rising star at Miami's Deep City label. She had begun recording in 1963 and now had an album's worth of material. In short, then came Betty Wright and it was all over. But Smith's music captures a moment in soul music when very small labels carried the day and beautiful music was being made in studios based in warehouses, basements or the backs of restaurants and TV/radio repair shops. Below are her 1963 debut "The Pot Can't Talk About the Kettle" and 1967's "I'm Controlled By Your Love".


Born Joan Carol Pulliam, she adopted the stage name Jaibi following her marriage to soul singer-songwriter Larry Banks (who had been previously married to singer Bessie Banks). She began recording with a vocal group called the Pleasures and then, solo for Kapp Records. However, commercial success eluded her and she left music in 1968 to become a computer programmer. She died of leukemia in 1984.

Ruby Andrews

Hailing from Hollandale, Mississippi, Andrews recorded for the Chicago based Zodiac label. She is best known for her 1967 single "Casanova (You're Playing Days Are Over)". She followed up that single with several others, but seems to have stopped recording in the 1970s. She currently runs her own label Genuine Ruby Records.

Patty Stokes

Another rare artist who I found on YouTube. No photos, no bio, no whereabouts. She was apparently from Philadelphia and recorded one single for the Ohio based Mir-A-Don label in 1967 which also apparently featured the musicians who soon make Sigma Sound Studios famous. The two sides of that single are "Good Girl" and "Is It True".

Dori Grayson

From Shreveport, Louisiana where she also recorded for indie label Murco in 1967-68. In the brief time that it was operating, Murco put out some of the finest southern soul around and Grayson was one of the label's star artists. However, her success was only regional although she has had a cult following for some time now.

The Charmels

Over at Stax, this vocal group recorded a handful of singles between 1966 and 1968, the best of which is their late-1967 release "As Long As I've Got You." Their last single was for Volt a year later, a cover of "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" re-titled "Lovin' Feelin'".

Patti Drew

Hailing from South Carolina, but later recording in Chicago, Patti Drew cut a single in late-1963 with her vocal group The Drew-Vels called "Tell Him". She later rerecorded as a solo artist it for Capitol in 1968 and followed that up with great covers of Barbara Lewis' "Workin' On a Groovy Thing" (in turn covered by 5th Dimension in 1969) and Otis Redding's "Hard To Handle". She left the music business and only recorded and performed sporadically afterwards.

Lezli Valentine

Originally a session vocalist with The Hearts (Baby Washington's original group) and The Jaynettes ("Sally Go 'Round The Roses"), Valentine was signed to Sylvia Robinson's new label All Platinum in 1968. There she recorded "I Won't Do Anything" and "Love On a Two-Way Street" both of which were passed on to label mates The Moments who had a massive hit with the latter song in 1970. Valentine later became a gospel singer.

Barbara Brown

Memphis-based Barbara and The Browns recorded for Stax and XL Records, although their 1963 debut was for the Chip Moman-owned indie label Wilmo. Many of the group and her own solo recording were leased out to other labels, but were later gathered together on a compilation called Can't Find Happiness. Brown died in 2010.

Doris Duke

Born Doris Curry, she initially recorded under her married name Doris Willingham in the mid-1960s. She recorded her now legendary (among collectors) sessions with Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams in 1969. These sessions became the album I'm a Loser which contained deep soul gems such as "To The Other Woman", "Feet Start Walking" and the album's title track. Duke continued to record into the 1970s before retiring from music for good.

Candi Staton

Known for her 1970s disco hits and her gospel material, her recordings for Fame Studios are legendary. Between 1969 and 1973, Staton, produced by Clarence Carter and singing songs written by southern soul songwriter George Jackson, brought eh full power of southern gospel into her secular work. Songs from these sessions included "I'd Rather Be An Old Man's Sweetheart (Than a Young Man's Fool)", "I'm Just a Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin')" and "Evidence". Three albums worth of material resulted. Staton left Fame Studios for Warner Brothers in 1974, had great pop success and then went back to gospel music. Within the last several years, Staton has recorded more secular material as well.

Bettye LaVette

A recording artist since her 1962 debut for Atlantic, LaVette recorded throughout the 1960s and early-1970s with virtually no commercial success. After recording for labels as diverse as LuPine, Calla, Karen, and Silver Fix/SSS International, she returned to Atlantic to record and album in 1972 which was subsequently shelved. Called Child of the Seventies, the album had a second life through a European release in the 2000s. After that interest in LaVette's work grew. She began to record with the Anti label in 2006 and has finally found the success she has so richly deserved all of these years.

Out Like a Lioness: Heroines of Soul Music, Part 1

March, Women's History Month, is almost over. Many lives and legends have been acknowledged, remembered and celebrated. This past week, both Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin celebrated birthdays. Somewhere over the past few months, I have noticed the Facebook group, The Brown Girl Collective, post the birthdays of some fairly obscure soul music artists from the 1960s. Based on that here is Unsung Heroines of Soul Music, Part One, featuring some of these artists. I featured them on my radio show at some point during its seven year run.

Mable John

Sister of 1950s rhythm and blues singer Little Willie John (who sang the original version of "Fever"), Mable John was employed by Motown at the very beginning and was the label's first female on record. Her debut on the Tamla imprint was in 1960 with "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like That" followed by "No Love" and "Actions Speak Louder Than Words". Pegged as a blues artist, her material was not what Motown was aiming for, focusing instead on more youthful sounding artists. Mable John left Motown in 1964 and two years later was signed to Stax, having some success with songs like "You're Good Thing is About To End" and "Able Mable". She left Stax Records during its turbulent transition into an indie label in 1968. She also spent some years singing with Ray Charles' back-up vocalists the Raelettes before becoming a gospel artist.

Gloria Lynne

Gloria Lynne was a prolific jazz singer who did a few crossover songs at that point in the early 1960s when soul music began to spin off from its early rhythm and blues, doo-wop and gospel roots. Her 1961 release on Everest was called "You Don't Have To Be a Tower of Strength". Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, the song was an answer to Gene McDaniels' "Tower of Strength" also written by Bacharach and David. Lynne's singing career returned to jazz for its duration into the last decade. Gloria Lynne passed away last October at the age of 83.

Ernestine Anderson

Also a jazz singer who continues to perform in her 80s, Ernestine Anderson had a couple of crossover songs in the mid-1960s, including "You're Not the Guy For Me" on the New York based Sue label. Her following was large in the UK. Her talents extended into the blues and gospel realms as well. Her most recent album was 2009's A Song For You.

Maxine Brown

Brown's 1961 rhythm and blues release on the indie label Nomar, called "All In My Mind" has all the sultriness of the best southern soul, back when Stax was still called Satelitte Records and Fame Studios had yet to open for business. She later recorded for major label ABC-Paramount (at that point, home to Ray Charles and The Impressions) before moving over to Scepter/Wand (Chuck Jackson, The Shirelles, Dionne Warwick) where she had a hit in 1964 with the original version of "Oh No, Not My Baby". Brown continued to record and continues to perform to this day.

Ann Cole

Born Cynthia Coleman, Cole began as a gospel artist and adopted her stage name in the 1950s when she switched over to secular music. Her career peaked in the late-1950s and early 1960s; particularly successful was her 1962 release on the Roulette label "Have Fun" the B-side to which was the answer song (to Etta James' "Stop the Wedding") "Don't Stop the Wedding". A serious car accident not long after this ended Cole's music career and confined her to a wheelchair. She died in 1986 at the age of 52.

Bertha Tillman

One of the hardest soul artists to find anything biographical on. Several on the Internet have tried only to turn up nothing; nothing on where she was from or if she is still alive. There are only her records. A deep, haunting voice, similar to Amy Winehouse's emanates from her 1962 and 1963 recordings on the Brent label out of Los Angeles: among them,"I Wish" and the best one, in my opinion, "Oh My Angel".

Jan Bradley

Born Addie Bradley, she recorded prolifically in the 1960s for many labels, but notably for Chess. Her biggest success in 1962-63 was "Mama Didn't Lie". She left music in the 1970s to raise her family and become a social worker. In the mid-2000s, Bradley was interviewed about her career by Bob Abrahamian on his University of Chicago soul music radio program Sitting in the Park. Her music has long been appreciated by Northern soulsters the world over.

Baby Washington

Known variously as Justine Washington and Jeannette (Baby) Washington, this Sue label artist also had/has a cult following in the UK. Singing with vocal groups The Hearts and The Jaynettes in the 1950s, she went solo in 1957. After a string of early 1960s releases, Washington hit her stride with 1963's "That's How Heartaches Are Made" (covered by the Marvelettes in 1969) and "I Can't Wait Until I See My Baby's Face" (covered by Dusty Springfield in 1967). Washington continued to record throughout the decade and still does as of this year.

Theola Kilgore

Soul music always had gospel at its core, but the early legendary classics were literally gospel songs made secular. In early 1963, Kilgore had a huge hit with "The Love of My Man", adapted from the Soul Stirrers' "The Love of God". This sombre yet ecstatic piece as what some of the best soul is made of. Kilgore continued to record in the years afterward on various labels including her own KT label (co-owned with singer/producer Ed Townsend). Kilgore passed away in 2005.

Bessie Banks

Two words: "Go Now". The song that later became the first hit for the Moody Blues was written by Bessie's husband Larry Banks especially for her; it was produced by Leiber-Stoller. Larry and Bessie had met in the 1950s while singing in a vocal group called Three Guys and a Doll. But, "Go Now" produced after the couple had separated, was her masterpiece. It was a matter of timing, though, and The Moody Blues version overtook Banks'. In the years afterwards, Banks recorded sporadically for Verve and Stax-Volt before turning to gospel music within which she still performs today.

Shirley Matthews

A Canadian soul singer from Harrow, Ontario, Matthews recorded for the Toronto label Tamarac, though her records were picked up by Atlantic in New York for US distribution. Such was the case for her Canadian-side hit "Big Town Boy" which had to compete with The Beatles' "She Loves You" on the RPM charts in 1963-64. Despite this, Matthews won the RPM Gold Leaf Award for Female Vocalist of 1964. Another song from 1964, "Wise Guys", captures the spirit of the British Invasion impacted pop landscape. Matthews later left music to enter business administration, at one point becoming the CEO of a chain of sports clubs. Matthews died in early 2013.

Nella Dodds

From Havre de Grace, Maryland, Dodds recorded an album's worth of material for the Sceptre label imprint Wand. Singles from the album were released in 1964-65, however the album, This Is a Girl's Life, was shelved. Ace/Kent in the UK released the album with bonus tracks in 2007.

Mitty Collier

A gospel singer who sang secular material part-time, Collier recorded soul music for Chess Records during most of the 1960s. Just like Kilgore, Collier adapted a gospel song, Reverend James Cleveland's "I Had a Talk With God Last Night" into a secular one, "I Had a Talk With My Man." She is best known for this song which become a huge R&B and modest pop hit in 1964. Collier later returned to gospel work and was eventually ordained as a minister.

Jackie Ross

Chess Records had many female stars in the 1960s: Etta James, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Minnie Riperton, Koko Taylor, Laura Lee and of course Mitty Collier and Fontella Bass (below). Jackie Ross, raised on gospel both her parents, both of whom were preachers, signed to the label in 1964 after a stint on Sam Cooke's SAR Records. She would release many recordings at Chess and at other labels later in her career, but only one stands out: the mid-tempo "Selfish One", sung with a coquettish charm with a slight undercurrent of melancholy (thanks to the french horns which also back up Collier on her classic). Like many soul tunes of this era, this one would enjoy many lives on the northern soul circuit years later.

Denita James

James, reportedly Kim Weston's cousin, recorded a scorcher in 1965 on the LA label Flip called "Wild Side". Images of rival mod and rocker gangs riding their scooters and motorcycles run vivid through it. Naturally it later became a northern soul classic. No biography exists for James, save for the fact that she performed with a group called Natura'elles (see above photo) and that she recently passed away.

Fontella Bass

Probably the least obscure in this list thanks to her 1965 smash "Rescue Me". However, Bass had many other releases for Chess Records, including a duet with blues singer Bobby McClure "Don't Mess Up a Good Thing" and covers such as "Our Day Will Come" and "You've Lost That Loving Feeling". One song towers above them all, arguably even the originals: her cover of Maxine Brown's 1964 song "Oh No, Not My Baby". Sung a key higher and backed up by the studio's spare, yet majestic guitar and horn section, Bass' 1966 cover elevates Brown's into the stratosphere. Definitely worth a listen!

Bass went on to record other records including two with the free jazz Art Ensemble of Chicago. She partially retired from music in the 1970s only to return to it later, often as a background vocalist. Fontella Bass died from complications from a stroke in December of 2012.

Barbara Lynn

A singer and guitarist, Barbara Lynn had a hit in 1962 with "You'll Lose a Good Thing" which she covered again a few years later. Lynn straddled soul and electric blues and her songs and presence carried a power and swagger rare in the 1960s. Many covered her songs. The above was covered by Aretha Franklin. Her "Oh Baby (We Got a Good Thing Goin' On)" was covered by the Rolling Stone and "You Left The Water Running" by Otis Redding. One mid-1960s highlight was Lynn's performance on the shortlived Nashville TV show The Beat!!! in 1966. On the show she performed the above material as well as (at the 1:12 mark in the video below) a rocking cover of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say". She continues to perform to this day.