Rhythm-and-blues has been home to some of the most powerful and influential female voices in music history. From the early days of the genre to the present, women have made their mark with their stunning vocals, raw emotion, and fierce independence. Here, you can find a summary of the women who have been at the forefront of shaping the genre since its inception.
These women have shown that rhythm-and-blues is not just a genre of music, but a platform for self-expression, empowerment, and social change. Through their music, they have inspired generations of women to be strong, independent, and true to themselves. Their contributions to the world of music will always be remembered, and their influence will continue to be felt for generations to come.
Shirley Ellis, born Shirley Marie O’Garra in 1929, was an American soul singer and songwriter who gained international fame during the 1960s. Although her active recording span was short, Shirley Ellis left us with many…
With a recognizable drum intro from David Albert ‘Panama’ Francis, and with guidance on the tenor sax by Sam ‘The Man’ Taylor, LaVern Baker hit the charts in 1956 with the song ‘Jim Dandy’. The song would later take number 325 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
LaVern Baker recorded many great rhythm-and-blues songs during the 1950s and 1960s. Her single debut for Atlantic Records was in 1953 with the song ‘Soul On Fire‘ and the following year, she would record the major rhythm-and-blues hits ‘Tweedle Dee‘ and ‘Bop-Ting-A-Ling‘. Baker, born Delores Williams, recorded already before signing with Atlantic Records. This was under different pseudonyms. In 1951, she recorded on RCA Records under the stage-name Little Miss Sharecropper, and in 1952, she signed with Okeh Records and started using the name Bea Baker. Her big breakthrough as a singer was with Atlantic Records so the name, LaVern Baker, was kept.
“We can hear the soul, the spirit, and the sense of humor in her art.”
In the 1950s, it was usual for white musicians to copy or imitate the creative work of black artists. Those copies would sell often better with the white audience and many record companies used this as a sale strategy. Ahmet Ertegun, the co-founder of Atlantic Records, said: “when Radio stations had the choice between the black original and the white copy, they would always play the copy”. Baker’s hit ‘Tweedle Dee‘ was covered by Georgia Gibbs, the cover became more popular and sold much better. Apart from quality and musicality, it succeeded Baker’s original. LaVern Baker was not a big fan of this practice, it made her upset and she considered it stealing. As a sarcastic joke, Baker named Gibbs beneficiary on her flight life insurance. When she would go on a big tour, and not record any new songs, she mailed the insurance documents to Gibbs with the message: “Since I’ll be away and you won’t have anything new to copy, you might as well take this.”
Baker took satisfaction in knowing that when Gibbs covered her song ‘Tra, La, La“, she didn’t pay attention to the song on the record’s other side, ‘Jim Dandy‘. This song would become and major hit and remained untouched by Georgia Gibbs.
Songwriter Lincoln Chase, who wrote ‘The Nitty Gritty‘ for soul legend Shirley Ellis, was the creative figure behind the song ‘Jim Dandy (To The Rescue)‘. He wrote the lyrics to the song that was recorded by LaVern Baker in 1956.
“I was sitting on a mountain top. 30,000 feet to drop. Tied me on a runaway horse Uh huh, that’s right, of course. Jim Dandy to the rescue! Go, Jim Dandy!” describes one of the multiple situations where Jim Dandy would save a woman in distress. In the song, Jim Dandy refers to a man who rescues women from difficult, unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous situations. A real hero you can say. The dictionary defines ‘Jim-Dandy‘ as something very pleasant or something of excellent quality (e.g. that new album you bought is a real Jim-Dandy). Now as in many great rhythm-and-blues songs, the lyrics contain a great deal of humor and sarcasm.
Thanks to its success a sequel came out in 1957. Again written by Lincoln Chase, recorded by LaVern Baker, and released by Atlantic Records. The song describes a humorous cliche of a hero falling in love with the girl he just saved; “Jim Dandy rescued May, Fell in love with her the very same day, Got engaged that afternoon. Left that night on his honeymoon“.