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