Kim Weston – Recognition long overdue


Kim showing Motown glamour 1965


Kim Weston (1939 – ) is another great lady of soul, who has never received the proper recognition for her work. She was yet another Motown singer who was obscured by their group Supremes and their most magnificent lead singer, Diana Ross.

Kim in the early 60's, with The Andantes

Kim was signed to Motown 1962-67, and she made some truly great music there, but it was not given the right kind of promotion, and so all people remember of her Motown work is her two biggest hits “Take me in your arms (Rock me a little while)” and “Helpless”. And of course her 1966 album with Marvin Gaye, “Take Two” which included their hit single “It takes two”.

Kim & Marvin at an album cover photo session 1966
Motown never bothered to release a proper solo album with Kim, but luckily in later years absolutely all of her Motown recordings have been made available on CD, and the two disc/48 track “The Motown Anthology” is definitely worth searching out. Kim has a great voice, and adapts it to widely different material. She can sensually coo her way through a jazzy ballad, or she can belt out a fast stomping soul song like the best of them!
Obviously unhappy, she switched labels in 1967 – moving on to MGM. She saw some chart action with the singles “I got what you need” and “Nobody”, and her stunning version of the “black anthem”, “Lift every voice and sing”. MGM also put out a couple of great albums with Kim; “For The First Time” (1967), “This Is America” (1968).
She then got a recording contract with Stax in 1969, the year she made a very good album with Johnny Nash, including the minor hit single “We try harder”. Also on Stax, she made the incredibly soulful “Kim Kim Kim” (1971), containing a fabulous version of “When something is wrong with my baby”.
Next up was her jazz-inspired album “Big Brass Four Poster” (1972), recorded with The Hastings Street Jazz Experience.
After this, Kim did not record again for 15 years, but she did go on tour with both Billy Eckstein and Harry Belafonte. She also worked in radio and she supported and worked for Detroit’s Mayor Young for several years. In addition she went to Israel for some time, working with young singers there.

Kim on the cover of Jet Magazine, 1973

In 1987, Kim was the first ex-Motowner to be signed to Ian Levine’s British label Motor City. Her first single for them was “Signal your intention”, which soared to No. 1 on the UK Hi Energy charts. An album called “Investigate” followed, combining brand new material with a couple of re-recordings of old songs from her time at Motown. She also teamed with Marvin Gaye’s brother Frankie Gaye to make some duets, among them a remake of “It takes two”.

Kim & Marvin's brother: cover of 1989 single

 A follow-up album, “Talking Loud” saw a limited release in Europe 1990, but all of Kim’s Motor City material is available on CD and as digital downloads. Among the most stunning tracks from this period is her version of “It should have been me” and the title track from “Investigate” which is absolutely great!

Still glamourous, 1990's


Kim in 2004, with Scherrie Payne and Brenda Holloway

 Kim is still active as a performer, and often visits Europe and the UK. If you ever get the chance to see her perform live, do it!
She is a true soul legend whose work stands up against any competition. Great voice, great songs, great Lady!

Abbey Lincoln – Jazz singer and political activist

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When Abbey Lincoln (1930-2010) died, a lot of people were surprised to find out she was actually 80 years old.  The reason for this of course is that most of her best loved, best selling albums came out during the 1990’s, and she was maybe looked upon as a jazz singer of the newer generation, and a contemporary of Dianne Reeves and Diana Krall. Her reputation as one of the great jazz ladies largely rests upon these records. She has also been called a protest singer by some, and she does deal with topics in some of her lyrics that might be looked upon as written by a protest singer. But to me it has a lot more to do with how she sings, the protest is lodged in her voice, and vocally she is every bit as much a soul singer as she is a jazz singer. You get the feeling that she has personal knowledge of everything she sings, and that every emotion she vocally transmits comes from her own experiences.

Like most Afro-American girls, little Anna Marie Wooldridge started out singing gospel in her local church. At the age of 22, she took the stage name Gaby Lee and worked in bars and night clubs around Hollywood and in Honolulu. After doing this for 4 years, she was spotted by a talent agent who gave her the new name of Abbey Lincoln, and also a recording contract. Her image at this point was that of a sexy, slinky night club chanteuse with all the trimmings; diamonds, tight dresses showing off a lot of cleavage, high heels, mink stoles etc.

Abbey in the late 50’s
 Her first album “Affair… A Story of a Girl in Love” came out 1956. The sexy cover might suggest that here was a singer in the mould of Eartha Kitt, purring through romantic ballads. So not, as Abbey even at this point had found her true voice – devoid of kittenish sexiness – and diving into the material in full voice, doing great versions of “The masquerade is over” and “This can’t be love” among others. She also made her first movie, guesting as a singer in the Jayne Mansfield movie “The Girl Can’t Help It”. Abbey performs the song “Spread the word, spread the gospel” wearing a sexy dress that had been used earlier by Marilyn Monroe! Part of the story is that sometime later, Abbey actually burned that dress to finally kill her image as a sexy night club singer!
During the next three years, she made three more albums similar to her debut album; “That’s Him” (1957), “It’s Magic” (1958) and “Abbey Is Blue” (1959). They have all been re-released on CD and can be downloaded from iTunes also.  Put together, these four albums give you the formative years of Abbey, and shows off a soulful singer doing jazzy versions of songs mostly from The Great American Songbook. But it does not in any way prepare you for what came next!
Working with drummer Max Roach (whom she married in 1962), she was the featured vocalist on their landmark 1960 album “We Insist – Freedom Now Suite”. The album consists of 5 long songs, and for the first time it shows that new Abbey-image. No longer cute & sexy, this singer is now a vocal warrior and a civil rights advocate. Her vocals on tracks like “Driva man” and “Prayer/Protest/Peace” proves that this girl means every word she sings, and she’s a force to be reckoned with! 1961 saw the release of another great album, “Straight Ahead” which is regarded as a classic, and I strongly suggest you check it out. Among the stand out tracks are “When Malindy Sings”, “African Lady” and “In the red”.
After this, Abbey took a very long break from recording, although she was still performing live. She starred in the 1968 movie “For the love of Ivy” with Sidney Poitier, playing the title role and receiving a Golden Globe nomination for it.
During the 70’s and 80’s she made only 4 albums, starting with the 1973 “People In Me”, and then she made her wonderful tribute to Lady Day, “Abbey Sings Billie” in 1987. After another 3 years away from the studios, she signed with Verve and made her first album (“The World Is Falling Down”) on that label in 1990.
From 1990 until 2007, Abbey made ten studio albums for Verve and one live album:
  • 1990: The World Is Falling Down
  • 1991: You Gotta Pay the Band
  • 1992: Devil’s Got Your Tongue
  • 1992: When There is Love
  • 1993: The Music is the Magic
  • 1994: A Turtle’s Dream
  • 1996: Who Used to Dance
  • 1998: Wholly Earth
  • 2000: Over the Years
  • 2003: It’s Me
  • 2007: Abbey Sings Abbey

Each and everyone of these albums is highly recommended, they are all good. All of them show off Abbey in good voice, doing great material, surrounded by very talented musicians – so just get them!! 

 Abbey endured open-hearted surgery in 2007, and for the next years her health deteriorated badly, and she was in a Manhattan nursing home at the time of her death in August 2010, twelve days after her 80th birthday.
Abbey once said: “when people leave this Earth, they spread their wings of miracles in a blaze of light and disappear…”
Musically, Abbey spread miracles and light through everything she did with her wonderful voice during her more than 50 years of singing…. and I often put some of those vocal miracles into my CD player.

Abbey on stage, ca. 1998


Brenda Holloway – Spotlight on a Soul Goddess


Brenda Holloway (1946 – ) is proof positive that you can be regarded as a Soul goddess even if you make less than 10 albums in 50 years, you don’t appear on a lot of front pages and your life is not tainted by scandals and drugs. How?? By having a glorious voice, putting it to use on excellent material, recording some classic soul cuts and somewhere along the way making a lot of fans that way. Also, you keep working, keep your voice and be a nice person. Brenda Holloway made her first record in 1962 at the age of 16, and her latest so far was recorded in 2011.

Beautiful Brenda in the mid 1960's

If Brenda is remembered at all, it’s probably for her Motown records made in the mid 1960’s. Like most other girl singers signed to Motown, she was left in the shadows of Diana Ross, and/or she didn’t get the right songs to show off her incredible talent. A fate she shares with Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight, Frances Nero, Mabel John and practically every girl signed to that company.

Brenda started her recording career 1962, releasing her debut single “Hey Fool”, backed with “Echo”. A total of 10 singles appeared on various small labels like Donna, Catch and Brevit. In addition to her solo work, she was also making duets and group recordings that teamed her up with Jess Harris, Hal Davis, The Four J’s, as one-fourth of The Watesians and with her sister Patrice Holloway. Her entire output during 1962-64 was released on CD in 2009; a 22 track collection titled “The Early Years – Rare Recordings 1962-1963”. These songs show a young girl trying to find her own style and voice, and this CD contains everything from slow, sexy ballads to girl-group pop. It also shows that she indeed has the chops to go up against Aretha and Patti, as she really wails and shows off an enormous range for someone so young. Later on, her style became more subdued and sexy, while still being 100% soulful – leading up to one writer giving her the nick name “The deeply soulful mistress of emotion”.

1964 saw Brenda signing up with Motown, and she immediately went to work on her first album “Every Little Bit Hurts”, named after her break-through hit song, a soul classic that has since been covered by many other singers. She also had another hit with a song that she co-wrote with her sister Patrice and Frank Wilson, “You’ve made me so very happy”. That song was later a big hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears – but it is HER composition, she was the first to record it and her version is many times better! In recent years, Brenda has talked about her Motown years and said they were not happy ones for her. She gives a lot of reasons for this (other than Berry Gordy giving all his attention to Miss Ross & co.): she was criticized for dressing too much like Tina Turner and at the same time she felt uncomfortable with the sexy image Motown was trying to put on her. She was not allowed to record any of her own songs, and when she did record what they wanted her to sing, she felt it was not given proper promotion.

A 1965 follow-up album was never released (it was titled “Hurtin’ and Cryin'”). In 1968, Motown released a collection titled “The Artistry of Brenda Holloway”, containing songs she’d recorded for the label, but not released. The cover was just awful, picturing a solemn looking Brenda with a violin pasted across her throat! She had taken violin lessons as a young girl, and actually played very well, but you’d never guess from the album! Universal put out a 2-disc compilation in 2005, “Brenda Holloway – The Motown Anthology”. This is a very good collection, containing both her albums (one released, one not released in the 60’s), all tracks from “The Artistry of…” and 13 other gems found in the vaults! Among these is a live recording of Brenda doing Gershwin’s “Summertime”, on which she actually plays the violin!

Brenda's 1980 album

Brenda was released from her Motown contract in 1969, when she felt her conflicts with the company were too much to take. She left Detroit, settled in Los Angeles, married preacher Albert Davis and had 4 children. She made no solo recordings whatsoever during the 70’s, and seems to have worked very little. She did, however, do session work and back-up singing for the Invictus label, and for British rock singer Joe Cocker. She made a gospel album in 1980, titled “Brand New!”, and it seems to have had a very limited release. Personally, I have never seen a copy! She divorced Albert Davis in the mid-80’s, and then did what soul fans all over the globe had hoped for; she went back to being a recording artist!

In 1987, Brenda was on of the first ex-Motowners to sign with Ian Levine’s British label Motorcity, and later on almost one hundred other acts from Motown also recorded for this label – thus, thankfully, giving us new material from Kim Weston, Mary Wells, G.C. Cameron and others! Brenda made her first single there, “Give me a little inspiration”, a high energy dance track that was immediately popular in Britain’s Northern Soul circles. Teaming up with Jimmy Ruffin, she filled the dance floor once again with their wonderful duet “On the rebound”. Brenda recorded 40 songs for Motorcity, and some of them was put out on an album called “All It Takes” in 1990. A record company called Bestway then released her entire work for Motorcity on a 2 disc/39 song collection called “My Love Is Your Love” in 2003. It proves that Brenda still sounded great, she got to wrap her golden pipes around a lot of good songs, and while most of the Motorcity singers mainly re-recorded their old hits, Brenda got new material to work with! She did also re-record some of her old hits, “Every little bit hurts” and “You’ve made me so very happy”. Other stand outs among them are her version of Curtis Mayfield’s “Make me believe in you” and her cover of Esther Philips’ hit “Home is where the hatred is”. She obviously delighted in the renewed interest in her career, and started actively performing again, being very popular in Great Britain, but also touring a lot during the next decade.

The revived Volt label put out her 1999 album “It’s A Woman’s World”, and it proves she was perfectly able to keep up with the current trends, as the record is a very fine piece of urban contemporary soul. Whether Brenda is very private person who doesn’t like talking to the press, or if it the press isn’t interested – I don’t know, but not much information is to be found about her activities during the last decade. YouTube has some clips of her performing in 2009.

Her latest work was made in 2011; she duets with Cliff Richard on the song “Do you ever”, which is included on his album “Soulicious”, a collection of duets with other soul singers i.e. Candi Staton, Roberta Flack and Freda Payne.

To me, Brenda Holloway is one of the unsung heroines of soul, and I surely hope that she one day will get all the recognition she so rightly deserves. Do yourself a favour and listen to some of her stuff, she truly is one great singer!!

Brenda in the 2000's

Abbey Lincoln and Brenda Holloway ….new posts coming soon!

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I will in the next days give you in-depth surveys of the careers of two great singers, both of whom were quite magnificent, and they both deserved to be much bigger stars – although both of them have a loyal following:

Jazz singer Abbey Lincoln, and soul chanteuse par exellence: Former “Motown Diva” Brenda Holloway!


Anita O’Day – Through the years

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Anita O’Day (October 18, 1919 – November 23, 2006) was one of the greatest jazz singers of the 21st century. She also had one of the longest careers in music history: She made her first record in 1941, the last one in 2006 – a time stretch of 65 years! Having had a throat operation at a young age, during which the doctor accidentally cut off her uvula, you’d think that singing was off limits. Anita herself stated that it only meant she was unable to hold long notes and that she sings without vibrato. So she developed a singing style based on rhythm and singing short notes only. This made her an ideal bebop singer, but listening to any of her records, the missing uvula is not something you think much about. Anita has a warm, slighty husky voice and during the years she sang pure jazz, ballads, standard material, some latin-tinged songs – and all of it very well!

Anita spent her childhood in Chicago, raised by her single mother. Her mother is described by Anita in her autobiography as not being very nice. For years, she told Anita that she was born on Christmas Eve (to avoid buying presents probably), and when Anita in her early twenties needed a passport to go on a tour of Japan, she was shocked to find that she was actually born in October! At 15 she took off from home, earning money as a marathon dancer. She must have been a sight back then, as even very late in life Anita was a slim, stylish woman who carried herself with grace and always looking younger than she was.

Early Years: Her work as a dancer got her in touch with a lot of musicians, and she married drummer Don Carter in 1937. By 1941 she had secured a job singing with Gene Krupa, and with his band she made her first record in 1941. She immediately has a big hit with “Let me off uptown”, and up to 1943 when she left the band, she was a big juke box star with several other hits like “Thanks for the boogie ride” and “Stop! The red light’s on”. Her complete recordings with Krupa have been released on CD, and they show the hottest drummer in the world perfectly complementing the voice of the hardest swinging jazz girl ever!

She worked with Stan Kenton’s band 1944-45. The obviously had a good relation ship, as she could sing as hard as he could swing. And he also probably had a thing for girls from the mid-west who sang in the cool jazz style, as some of his other singers were Chris Connor and the late, great June Christy. With this band, Anita had a big hit with “And her tears flowed like wine” and some other notable sides she made during this period are “I’m going mad for a pad”, “Tabby the cat” and “The Lady in red”. She briefly re-joined Gene Krupa in 1945/46, before starting her solo career in 1947.

From 1947 until 1950, she recorded various singles for a lot of small labels and some of these are very good. “Hi ho Trailus Boot Whip” is a wordless scat-masterpiece, her versions of “How high the moon” and “Malaguena” are both great, so is “Key Largo”, “I told ya I love ya – now get out!”, “Harriet” and “Chickery Chick”. The 4 CD Box Set “Young Anita” contains all her songs from 1941-50, including her work with Krupa, Kenton, Count Basie and some air checks recorded for radio. It’s a great collection, and it gives you a wonderful insight of her formative years.

Anita was then signed to Norman Granz’ Verve label and for the next 10 years she consistently made one great album after the other, and the years 1952-62 show once and for all that the Verve records alone would be enough to secure Anita a place in jazz history, and also proves that she was one of the best female singers in her field.

The Golden Years: Most of her albums for Verve have all become classics, almost all of them have been re-released on CD and are available as digital downloads. Verve also made a 9 CD Box Set, “The Complete Anita O’Day Verve-Clef Sessions” which includes all her albums for them, plus some previously unreleased stuff. It’s expensive, but well worth every penny if you can get it! For Verve she made two swinging albums with Billy May, one with Cole Porter songs, the other with Rodgers & Hart songs. Other great albums on Verve are “Anita Sing The Most”, “Anita Sings The Winners”, “Cool Heat”, “Trav’lin’ Light”, “Waiter, make mine blues”, “All The Sad Young Men” and “Incomparable”. The early 2000s saw the release of “Anita Live In Tokyo”, which was recorded live in 1962.

Her contract with Verve ended 1962, and for the next 10 years or so, Anita performed very little, recorded nothing and according to her book did a lot of drugs and alcohol and almost died of an overdose in 1968. By 1970 she had cleaned up her act, detoxed and given up most of her bad habits, and her appearance at the 1970 Berlin Jazz Festival showed that she was still a force to be reckoned with. She also did a couple of films in the early 70s; “False Witness” (1970) and “The Outfit” (1974).

The last 30 years: After a 12 year absence from making records, Anita was back in the studio in 1974 making the album “I Get A Kick Out Of You”, and with rapid tempo followed with other, very good albums : “My Ship” (1976), “Mello’day” (1977), “Angel Eyes” (1978), “In A Mellow Tone” (1989), “Rules Of The Road” (1993). This last album includes Anita doing her version of the James Bond theme song “Nobody does it better” originally performed by Carly Simon. Check it out, and you’ll see that the title fits Anita like a glove! The album also shows the legendary voice beginning to lose some of it original luster, but at age 74 she still has what it takes. After a 13 year retirement, Anita came out on the scene again in 2006, making her very last record “Indestructable!”. Personally, I’m not sure what I think of this album, as it clearly shows an over-the-top 86 year old singer whose voice is very much past its prime. On the other hand, it also proves that her feeling for the material and her ability to go deep into the lyrics were undiminished, and as such it’s not all bad and you have admire that she actually went ahead and did this project! One of the songs, “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby” was featured in the opening scene of the cult movie “Shortbus”. In some strange way, the slurred and sultry O’Day voice blends in very well with the strange, sexually graphic scenes displayed in the movie, and Anita (known for her salty humour) probably thought it hilarious.

If you’re a fan, you probably own every Anita O’Day record already. If you’re curious about her – get one of the Verve albums and check her out. Whether you like jazz singing, or you’re just a fan of great vocalists, her singing can be enjoyed by all music lovers as there is not a bad song among all the stuff she recorded during the 65 years she spent with microphone in hand!

Anita in the 1970's

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