As we come off the waves of International Women’s Day and plunge further into Women’s History Month, we find yet another powerful Pisces woman of soul celebrating their birthday. We wish Laura Lee a fulfilling 71st birthday this Wednesday.
Laura Lee Rundless found herself adopted by Detroit Gospel Powehouse Ernestine Rundless while still a child. In her teens she found herself crafting a magnificent stage presence alongside her mother in The Meditation Singers. By 21, she couldn’t dim her wattage to exclusively gospel settings. She found her way first to Detroit’s Ric-Tic records, but by 1967 she found herself on Chess Records, starting her years long sweep of empowered soul music, not unlike Aretha Franklin, just without the crossover Pop Success.
When she found herself in the hands of Invictus/Hot Wax at the turn of the decade, she found herself perhaps the grittiest female vocalist on the label, dominated by cheerier voices like Freda Payne (and her sister Scherrie before she joined The Supremes) and Darlene Love’s little sister Edna Wright. All of the Invictus/Hot Wax women got pretty proto-feminist (if not outright) material through their tenure at the label, but Laura Lee’s positivity extended to most, if not all of her chart efforts. Songs like “Women’s Love Rights” “Wedlock is a Padlock” and “Rip-Off” decidedly made her absolutely no fool of any man.
Today we go with her 2nd to last chart entry, the decidedly bad-ass-shut-your-mouth stride challenge issued in “If You Can Beat Me Rockin.'” Challenging all the women that could hear her clarion call about her strength, it was a fitting, if deserved to be heard more, farewell to secular music before she returned to singing gospel.