I Wish You Love
I've been listening to Gloria Lynne a lot lately. There's a tendency to overlook her, what with Sarah, Ella, Dinah, Nina and other gifted jazz singers competing for my listening time. But once her passionate voice got in my head, I couldn't go back to a little-or-no-Gloria mode.
Since the 1930s, Harlem's Apollo Theater has been the goal of many aspiring singers, and so it was for Gloria Wilson. Born in 1931, just a few years before the Apollo opened, she grew up right there in the neighborhood. Her mother was a gospel singer and clearly mom's love of music rubbed off on the young girl, who started auditioning for gigs in her late teens and wound up taking first prize at the Apollo's infamous "Amateur Night." Several years of kicking around, performing in clubs with various groups and recording as a backup singer using her stage surname Lynne, resulted in a deal with Everest Records, a new Long Island-based company started in 1958 by Harry D. Belock.
Her early recordings featured seasoned pros like Wild Bill Davis (former organist for Louis Jordan's band The Tympany Five) and The Jo Jones Trio (Jones was Count Basie's drummer for many years), but nothing connected with record buyers. Bernie Solomon (who'd purchased Everest from Belock) had faith in her talent (and besides, the label had yet to break through with any of its other artists). Thanks to Solomon's more aggressive promotion efforts, she finally appeared on the charts in early 1961, doing it up big with three solid-selling albums. The title track of one of those, "The Jazz in You" (composed by Luther Dixon and Chris Towns), had an outstanding small combo arrangement and fluid delivery of whimsical lyrics ("I'm like a fish caught on a hook, I'm in love, I'm mentally shook"); a nice introduction to a larger audience.
"He Needs Me," a song written by Arthur Hamilton (and introduced by Peggy Lee in the 1955 film Pete Kelly's Blues), was a spring '61 single and LP title track, furthering Lynne's exposure in jazz circles. "Impossible" (written by Ollie Jones and Bernie Friedman, using the pen name B.F. Flip), a beautiful, soaring, heart-tugging moment, reached the charts that fall, followed by an "answer" song to the Gene McDaniels smash "Tower of Strength." Both the melody and lyrics of "You Don't Have to Be a Tower of Strength" differed considerably from the Bob Hilliard-Burt Bacharach hit (though they received writers' credit) to the degree that it could have easily been considered a completely different composition, likely preferable to the answer concept, which failed to connect. Regardless of the lack of a breakthrough hit, 1961 was a good year for Gloria, as her name had begun to seep into the consciousness of the public even if her voice hadn't yet won its way into listeners' hearts. But momentum flagged over the next couple of years...there was little radio play, despite a couple of well-received albums of "live" club recordings.
Gloria's association with Everest Records had reached an impasse by late 1963, coinciding, as it turned out, with her most successful recording. "I Wish You Love" already had an extensive history; originally composed in 1942 by Frenchmen Leo Chauliac and Charles Trenet and later given English lyrics by Albert A. Beach, the song was notably recorded by Keely Smith and released in 1958, becoming something of a trademark for Keely apart from a couple of hits with husband Louis Prima and stage shows famously featuring his unbridled onstage antics. Lynne stole a little of Keely's glory when she made the song her own in '64. Opening with a Spanish-style guitar leading into Gloria's passionate, heartfelt vocals ('...my breaking heart and I agree that you and I could never be...so with my best, my very best, I set you free...'), the song couldn't help but connect, doing so against a changing tide; as the single peaked in the top 30 in March of '64, The Beatles had the top three hits on the chart. It was her only major pop hit (also top ten rhythm and blues), but there were other notable successes to come.
'64 turned out to be the big year that '61 hadn't. As she transitioned to the Fontana label, Everest managed to work two more well-crafted ballads onto the charts, "I Should Care" (a 20-year-old standard penned by Sammy Cahn, Axel Stordahl and Paul Weston) and the magnificently orchestrated "Don't Take Your Love From Me" (a similarly pedigreed Harry Nemo song), while Fontana got her rolling with another standard possessing a ten year-plus history, Irving Gordon's "Be Anything (But Be Mine)."
"Soul Serenade" was an instrumental hit in '64 for King Curtis, who'd co-written it with Luther Dixon; the two added lyrics and Gloria's recording wound up as the title track of a 1965 album. She got involved in the songwriting process around that time, collaborating with jazz master Herbie Hancock, adding lyrics to his "Watermelon Man" some two years after Mongo Santamaria had a big instrumental hit with it. Gloria added a playful, suggestive component to the tune and it went top ten R&B in the summer of '65.
There were no more hit singles and album sales gradually slacked off, but she continued performing for 40-plus years, her voice a finely-tuned instrument that retained its power and became more treasured through the years. Overlooked? Perhaps by many, including myself for a time. But don't pass her by. Gloria Lynne is not to be missed.