Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lula Reed - Lula Reed 1951-1954


I was watching American Idol.  I never do that.  After a few rounds the aspiring talent was packaged by handlers to be palatable to a larger audience.  However, every now and then out of the contestants came a revelation - a star in the making that, with the right tutelage, could take the world by storm, have a minor hit or two or, at least make music into a successful career.

It is not much different from the old Ted Mack Amateur Hour during the the 1950’s. Ted Mack produced a milk-drinking singer named Pat Boone - who gained stardom by singing "covers" of songs written and recorded by African American blues artists who were then largely unknown to the show's mostly white audience.

Those African American artists included such incredible talents as pianist Sonny Thompson and guitarist Freddy King. Struggling black artists could only occasionally cross the racial color barriers of the United States in the 1950’s.  Artists like Sammy Davis, Jr., Nat King Cole and Paul Robeson were the exception because they sounded white. Race records rarely made the National charts.

The color line prevented many black artists from entering the mainstream.  On top of the color line 1950’s misogynistic attitudes made it doubly difficult on black female singers.  A few African American woman jazz singers experienced mainstream success, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Pearl Bailey.  However, to become commercially successful in 1950’s American society women singers of color had to pair with a primarily white band or with a national icon such as Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

One 1950’s-era black woman singer too often overlooked because of her race was Lula Reed. Most know her, if they know her at all, from the sides she cut with Freddy King in 1962.  Reed’s nasal but intoxicating voice, at once feminine, naive and experienced, is instantly recognizable. It is the progenitor of true soul music.

Reed started in gospel in the late1940’s. In 1951, when she turned 22 years old, she auditioned for the Sonny Thompson Band and won a spot as the Band’s female singer.  Two national hits followed - "Let's Call It A Day" and “I'll Drown In My Tears",  Eventually Reed married Thompson.  In June of 1952 she cut her last two songs with the Band before Freddy King became its guitarist - "Last Night" and "Waiting to Be Loved by You".  In October of 1952 she recorded a pair of gospel songs with Freddy King (She also recorded a gospel session in 1954.). She made her secular solo debut in April 1953 and continued to record with Freddy King and the Sonny Thompson Band through 1956.  She never again realized the same level of success that she experienced with her two National hits, but she had minor hits in "Watch Dog" and "Bump On A Log." 

Reed continued to record after 1953, including the sessions with Freddy King in 1962.  She left the rhythm and blues world for the church in 1963.  Thereafter, through her death in 2008, she refused to discuss her secular music career.

Fortunately, Lula Reed 1951-1954 has been released on the Classics label as the first of  three releases that cover Reed's complete recording library. The album documents the beginning of Reed’s career, from her gospel days through her days with Freddy King in the Sonny Thompson Band. You will hear a young Reed belt out gospel and blues, and charm you with love ballads. It will make you wonder how she could not have been one of the top stars of her time. 

Reed is a true lost classic and her recordings are obscure titles.  It truly is some of the “best music you’re not listening to.”

- Old School

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