Listen up. In conjunction with Black History month, the daddy is posting on historical events and people who made a difference in the lives of African Americans and America itself: people who, as they say in gospel, "...brought us from a mighty long way." He is posting on musical, literary and political figures and events, focusing as much as possible on lesser-known figures who made a difference. Some posts will revisit historical figures about whom the daddy has already written. Other posts will be new altogether.
One of those lesser-known but great persons in African American's musical history is Lula Reed. Have you heard of her? It's alright if you have not. A lot of people never heard of her; and many of those who knew her distinctive, flexible voice-- a voice that was equally effective with blues-tinged ballads, hand-clapping gospel or uptempo R&B -- soon forgot her. Indeed, her signature song "Drown in my own tears" was recorded in 1951 and went to the top 5 on the billboard charts. But Ray Charles recorded it three years later; and now, when people here it, they think of Charles, and not Reed. But like Big Maybelle, Hadda Brooks and a number of other fine black women blues singers, Lula laid down a number of songs of high-quality singing. The reason history is not kind to Reed is that she was a victim of the insatiable itch of American music lovers for something new and, during the fifties and sixties: mostly new males like Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and new groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones-- all playing charged-up blues for lonely, lovestruck teenagers.
Yes, teenagers had a craving that just had to be satisfied. They had it bad-- and that ain't always good-- for Rock & Roll, a bouncy derivative of the blues with a snappy beat and an intoxicating, out-of-this-world, crazy feeling to it, a feeling evoking wild dancing, cheap alcohol, crazy hairdos, and a lowering of inhibitions.
For teeny boppers, rock & roll meant a high level of energy, craziness, fun, a music all their own and moments of independence that drove mom and dad nuts-- moments that illustrated with certainty that they would have their own driver's license, their own car, their own adulthood-- when they would one day let freedom ring by driving down gravel roads, listening to their own music as loud and as late into the night as they want.
Lula Reed, a great singer in the fifties and early sixties, was silenced by The Creator on June 21, 2008. But, truth be told, in another sense, she was silenced by an opportunistic music business that sought short-term profits off bored, harmone-crazed teenagers over long-term, artful substance, frenzied musical beats over musicality. Thus Lula's propensity for sweet ballads with a soulful voice that reminds you of smooth and sultry voice of Dinah Washington went the way of classic blues, folk and spirituals.
After moving from different labels and back again to the same ones, Lula, frustrated, went back to a place where it all started from, where her great voice would be better appreciated, where a good heart would never be out of style: the black church. And the record business never heard from her again.But on the road to quality music, Lula Reed left footsteps for music lovers to follow; and, fortunately, some of her music is coming back. "Boy, Girl, Boy," a sexy duet recorded with the up-and-coming guitarist Freddie King at the Federal Label in 1962, is being reissued. But the first reissue with be Lula Reed 1951-1954 on Classics. "Drown in My Own Tears" will be reissued; and it will feature 24 of her cuts from the Ace label. And of course there are the songs she recorded with collaborator and later husband Sonny Thompson that are a part of the Sonny Thompson collections.
For more on the life of Lula Reed, check out the wonderful piece that was written by Jeff Under on Big Road Blues. Also, see the piece about her obituary on the blog Juke Joint Soul. And purchase Lula Reed's CD with Freddie King or one of the other reissues. Play a tune or two and hear a voice that helped set the standard for quality singing in the fifties and early sixties.
Know your Black musical history. Know Lula Reed.