We bring Leo Ladies to a close with perhaps the most obscure that we’ve featured. From influential Girl Group Member, to Brill Building Demo Queen to One-Off Soul LP of the 70’s, Barbara Jean English did a little bit of everything in the realm of New York Soul Music. Through all of her work, none of it garnered the popular success she so deserved. So we’re taking the time to celebrate her accomplishments on her 69th Birthday.
As a member of The Clickettes, she cut her teeth on many an unheralded Girl Group classic starting in 1958. Her interpretation of “Lover’s Prayer” from 1959 is a Doo-Wop classic you should already know if you don’t already. Her style was definitely one of the most influential in the early Girl Group canon, as many folks picked up her wistful tone that cuts through the din of many of those early Clickettes recordings.
Her scope of influence was even greater as a Demo Singer. The story goes that it was her voice on the demo of “It’s My Party” that Lesley Gore heard in the early months of 1963. Who knows what other demo records from 1650 Broadway had Barbara Jean’s stamp, and how many other singers picked up pointers and cues on how to truly sell a song from this hidden Soul Queen. It’s worth remembering that all of this work and accomplishment is work she did before she hit the age of 20 as well.
However, I always go back to this performance. You’ve seen the name John Hamilton, music journalist for Chart Rigger grace these “pages” before. One late Summer day, we were emailing back and forth and he asked me had I ever heard “Tell Me Like It Is.” I hadn’t, it’s one of those rare B-sides seemingly lost to time and expensive record collections I have no access to. He’d just recovered some old MP3s from a hard drive, and knowing my penchant for glimmering performances that shine with naked vulnerability (something that I ascribe as the best quality of 60’s soul music), clicked send, and gave me one of my favorite obscurities of all time.
Whenever I hit periods of confusion and matters of the heart, especially in the 4 years since John introduced me to this song, I click play and sing along, as a lot of soul songs become my prayers, my ritual, my chanting for understanding. Bonus points for this particular number having one of my favorite singers, Dee Dee Warwick, chiming in on the background.
I hope you love this one as much as I do. And with a happy birthday to the marvelous Barbara Jean English, I also say thank you to Mr. Hamilton. Over 4 years you’ve made sure to push me to continue writing, celebrated my accomplishments and given me encouragement to keep going, with life in general.
“Tell It Like It Is” Indeed.