Underrated Black Female Singers: About a decade ago, my colleague Kevin Ross compiled a list of Black female singers that he felt were underrated and under-appreciated in comparison to their talents.
He invited me to take a crack at compiling such a Top 10 as we near the end of 2019. What follows is a list of female singers I consider talented and accomplished but have yet to reach the full gravitas of what I believe their talents so richly deserve.
1. Jackie Moore
I begin my list with a woman we sadly lost on November 8. The Jacksonville, Florida-native was in possession of what may have not been the most electrifying voice in Soul music in the highly competitive late `60s to early `80s, but it was most certainly one of the sweetest – a clear ringing alto richly inspired by the likes of Gladys Knight.
After garnering attention on the southern and Philly indies Shout and Wand Records, Jackie was traded to Atlantic Records, where she scored a Gold million-seller with the delightful “Precious, Precious,” a song she wrote the lyrics for (on the back of a brown paper grocery bag) with music by her cousin, producer Dave Crawford.
Strangely, Jackie didn’t get a full album release on Atlantic until 1973 with the strong 10-songSweet Charlie Babe, a project that showcased her winning versatility from the charming Soul-Pop of the title track (penned by Bunny Sigler and Phil Hurtt) to grittier sides like “Both Ends Against The Middle,” both of which should have been huge hits
.Underrated Black Female Singers “Miss Moore” (as she was often billed) also showed a penchant for message-oriented material with songs like the funk fortified “Time” (a 1971 single), “Clean Up Your Own Yard,” and “If,” the latter of which she remarked just before her death was even more relevant now than it was in `73.
Sadly, after recording 30 songs for Atlantic (14 unreleased until a 2-CD compilation was done in the U.K. last year, The Complete Atlantic Recordings), she was dropped from the label that apparently promoted Aretha records over all other R&B females. One album for Kayvette Records (owned by Millie Jackson and super Soul producer Brad Shapiro) was critically acclaimed but sank with little trace.
It wasn’t until signing to Columbia Records in the late `70s that Jackie rebounded with two classy albums, I’m On My Way (1979) and With Your Love (1980) where she scored a bonafide Disco classic with “This Time Baby” (originally an album cut recorded by The O’Jays) and a mild Quiet Storm gem in her cover of Major Harris’ “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” from a woman’s point of view.
Jackie’s last notable single was a duet with kindred Atlantic Records ex-patriot Wilson Picket on the sexy, orchestrated techno funk cut “Seconds,” after which she retired from recording, raised a family and flourished as a church first lady to her minister husband. Versatile Jackie Moore deserved a brighter shine yet, true to her humble spirit, was philosophically grateful for all she had achieved. Utmost respect.
2. Margie Joseph
Another singer who suffered during Aretha’s reign at Atlantic Records was Margie Joseph, a powerhouse who made a few important appearances on the Soul charts but never seemed to hit a big. The Pascagoula, Mississippi native went from church singing to a couple of sides for Okeh Records before signing to the Stax Records subsidiary Volt where she initially cut three singles including the Bobby Womack-penned “What You Gonna Do,” followed by two powerful albums that only resulted in one minor hit: a cover of the Supremes’ “Stop! In the Name of Love.”
A move to Atlantic in 1973 resulted in the following year in what would be her highest charting single, a cover of Paul McCartney’s “My Love” which hit #10 on Billboard’s R&B chart.
Otherwise, she carved out an underground niche for herself with some mildly racy material that included “Come Lay Some Lovin’ On Me,” “Stay Still (And Let Me Love You)” (later covered by Ronnie Laws), “Don’t Turn the Lights Off” and two produced by Motown great Johnny Bristol: “Come On Back To Me Lover” and “I Feel His Love Getting Stronger.”
Margie also had a controversial hit paired with Blue Magic on a remix of the romantic “What’s Come Ove Me” though they did not sing it together. Her parts were spliced in. Margie’s last major chart appearance was the #12 charter “Knockout,” a club hit. She is still around today sounding better than ever wherever she is invited to grace a stage.
3. Randy Crawford
When we talk about one-of-a-kind voices, Randy Crawford’s is a treasure. The Macon, Georgia native has proven impossible to box in though you most often found her records in the Jazz bin tanks to early associations with Cannonball Adderley (in the John Henry musical “Big Man”) and “Street Life,” the breakthrough 1979 hit she enjoyed as a guest of The Crusaders – so good they re-recorded it with film music legend Lalo Schifrin for the Hollywood movie “Sharkey’s Machine.”
But on her own albums, Randy served up confections that could and should have worked all over the radio dial – from R&B and Adult Contemporary to Pop and Country.
Most comfortably, she became a queen of the Quiet Storm radio format during a long stint with Warner Bros. Records beginning in 1976 with delights such a “I’m Under the Influence of You,” “Endlessly,” “Rio de Janeiro Blue,” “Windsong,” “One Day I’ll Fly Away,” “Now We May Begin,” “One Hello,” “I Don’t Want To Be Normal” (from the Goldie Hawn movie “Wildcats”), “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (a hit single with Rock guitarist Eric Clapton and Jazz saxophonist David Sanborn from the movie “Lethal Weapon 2”) and the film-worthy “Almaz” which Randy composed.
A club remix of her cover of George Benson’s Rod Temperton-penned classic “Give Me the Night” also became a staple of NAC radio. In later years, Randy has struggled with health issues but was chaperoned and shepherded by Crusaders keyboardist Joe Sample for two studio albums (Feeling Good and No Regrets) plus a Live CD with Joe’s son bassist Nicklas Sample and drumming legend Steve Gadd before Joe passed on. Prolific and with a sound that has made her internationally adored, it is still criminal that Miss Randy Crawford is not more of a household name.
4. Carmen Lundy
This Miami, Florida native is a Grammy-winning composer of over 120 songs – highly distinct for a Jazz artist – yet is not as well known as she should be beyond the category. Her albums are deeply emotional, personal and sensual works that often weave in social commentary on issues of race, gender and ecology.
And her performances are knockouts of intricate arrangements, passionate singing and multi-media experiments utilizing video and paintings – all created by Carmen. Her 1985 debut album Good Morning Kiss topped the Billboard Jazz chart for 23 weeks and subsequent albums of the 15 in her catalog include acclaimed works such as Self Portrait, Code Noir, Solaments, Changes, Come Home, Soul to Soul and her latest, Modern Ancestors. It’s high time this woman became wider known.
When so-called “Black Rock” began making a splash with the quartet Living Colour thanks in part to the efforts of the Black Rock Coalition, another band slid onto Epic Records behind them: Eye & I. Fronting this band was femalesinger DK Dyson with a power that could not only chase rain clouds away, it could turn mountains into rubble.
The group suffered the cruel fate of being too eclectic for its own good throwing Rock, Funk, Hip Hop, Pop and Punk into a blender that no single radio format elected to support. But from the power ballad “Virgin Heart” to the anthemic chant “Don’t Just Say Peace” to the cosmos rearranging “World Without End” even to a cover of Lou Reed’s “Venus in Furs,” Sister Dyson was a blast of bracing arctic air all over that 1992 anomaly deserving of wider recognition. Teaching yoga now following one solo release, DK still has a voice the world could surely use right now tied to the consciousness of her life walk.
6. Rhonda Clark
Pint-size powerhouse Rhonda Clark – born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Detroit, Michigan – was a latter-day signee to Black Music industry godfather Clarence Avant’s Tabu Records. Her 1989 debut, Between Friends, was launched with a song custom produced for her by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis entitled “State of Attraction” which peaked at #6 Billboard R&B, was given several club mixes but no music video – a gamble to persuade the industry to listen to her first.
No matter. The second single, the steamy ballad “Stay Here, Stay Near,” received one of the sexiest video treatments of the decade, helping it become a Quiet Storm burner. This was a strong setup for better things to come.
Unfortunately, Tabu made a switch from Sony to A&M Records for distribution, delaying the release of Clark’s crucial sophomore project which drastically cut into her momentum.
After a thoroughly satisfying cover of Luther Ingram’s “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” failed to ignite at radio plus had a run of the mill video, Tabu threw her into the New Jack Swing frying pan with the upbeat “Must Be Real Love” (penned by producers Christopher Troy & Zak Harmon with singer Marva King) that, again, had slammin’ remixes but no video to show off how well Rhonda – a young woman – could dance and perform.
There were plenty of other songs that could have given her a final shot at success on that album – from the ballad “When the Next Teardrop Falls” and a smokin’ version of Aretha’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)” to three songs custom made for her by the late, great Gerald Levert. Overall, Clark also wanted to write her own material but that did not happen at Tabu. Currently working in the field of psychology (which she had been diligently studying all along), Ms. Clark is planning to take another shot at music in 2020 with a long overdue third album.
7. Chante’ Moore
Though she debuted in the same `90s decade as Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton, San Francisco-born singer/songwriter Chante’ Moore has had to work ten times as hard to cement her creativity and longevity in Soul-Pop music, though never attaining their heights. She doesn’t have anywhere near the number of hit records but then again, she was launched by the late Louil Silas, Jr. as an adults-targeted chanteuse along the lines of Minnie Riperton, Sade and Anita Baker.
Her sparkling 1992 debut album, Precious, remains her sole gold-seller thanks to five singles released, the first “Love’s Taken Over,” being the biggest. An even more elaborate sophomore album, A Love Supreme, followed but did not reach Gold. After a critical five-year gap that included the birth of her first child, Chante’ released This Moment Is Mine with a lead single, “Chante’s Got a Man” that has become her signature.
Her fourth album, Exposed, found her trying hard to remind audiences that, despite her loftier leanings, she really was a young woman who liked to party with the Jermaine Dupri-produced “Straight Up” and even a collaboration with rapper Da Brat called “Take Care of Me.” However, it was the second single, “Bitter,” that caused an uproar with her use of the word “nigga” repeated multiple times in the song as part of its hook plus tongues wagging that the song seemed aimed at her ex-husband, actor Kadeem Hardison.
A second marriage to singer Kenny Lattimore found Chante’ also hitching her wagon to his to become a duo act with one album for Clive Davis’ Arista Records and two they did for Gospel label Verity. That partnership dissolved on personal and musical levels followed by two solo albums for Peak and Shanachie that had moments but were elsewhere flawed.
To Chante’s credit, she has stayed busy traveling in musical plays and co-starring in the reality TV series “R&B Divas of Los Angeles” but most importantly, launching her own imprint, C7, and releasing two solo albums including the prophetic The Rise of The Phoenix), a Christmas album and several 4-song EPs to date – all while still performing year round around the world, and promoting her independent albums with sexy, viable videos, reinvesting in herself. Chante’ Moore is a true survivor worthy of a higher profile and respect.
8. Nicki Richards
A Grand Prize winner on the “Star Search” TV talent show in the `80s who was signed to Atlantic Records by company co-founder Ahmet Ertegun, Honolulu-born Nicki Richards was groomed for multi-media success by her mother as well as her own insatiable hunger to master all things music. Highly ambitious, Richards was a relentless study who parlayed her talent, experience and knowledge into background singing work for jingles, TV, touring and recording with major music stars (most high profile being years with Madonna and, most recently, Steely Dan), stage musicals, scores of features with Dance/Club musicDJs and producers, and co-starring roles in indie movies.
The one album she released for Atlantic, Naked (To the World) in 1991, found her co-producing her project with renowned jazz to soul crossover master Lenny White for an acclaimed project that included 9 original songs, unique covers of The Isley Brothers’ “Voyage to Atlantis” and Seals & Crofts’ “Summer Breeze,” plus the Tina Harris-penned Quiet Storm classic “Paris.”
It took her 17 years to make another album of her own (though she was wildly in demand for other work), when she did return, it was with a magnificent project via her own company, Hydrus Music.
Simply titled Nicki, the project showcased her boundless curiosity in multiple styles of music, highlighted, surprisingly, NOT by dance music but a singular melding of sophisticated jazz-tinged Soul-Pop graced by supportive greats that include now sadly departed Joe Sample and Victor Bailey. Producing, writing and arranging all of the material, again with Lenny White’s “contrarian overseeing,” she poured the totality of her heart and abilities into the 2008 CD’s 17 selections that were criminally underheard.
Ditto for a follow-up four years later in 2012 entitled Tell Me that she produced, composed and arranged in the same meticulous manner, only to go out on a major tour as Madonna’s back-up singer (again) and not promote her own project at all.
Here is a case where choices were made that secured the artist’s livelihood but sacrificed the ability for her art to be rightfully exposed. In no ways was the art compromised, however, which makes it triply sad that Nicki’s music has yet to reach the wider audience it so richly deserves. However, there is hope.
Apparently, at this point in her life, Richards has aligned the stars of her universe to focus more intently on creating and promoting her own stellar work – of the future and her past – as it should always have been coddled and respected.
9. Ann G
Another artist from the late `80s/early `90s on Atlantic Records – though FAR less prolific – was Georgia girl Ann G. She bowed in 1989 with the techno pop single “If She Knew” from the album On a Mission on which she co-produced, co-composed and co-arranged all eight songs with her then-new husband Eddie Irons (original drummer for Funk band Brick). However, it wasn’t her radio hits that made her memorable.
It was album-oriented material that reflected a maturity beyond her years such as “Love at Dawn” and, even more so, on her follow-up album, From the Heart, with the songs “Love Me for Me” and “Heroes.” Best of all was the single from that second album, “Hassle Free,” which stands as one of the finest, most underrated singles of the `90s.
Though musically it sounded like Karyn White’s Babyface-penned “Superwoman,” its message was much deeper concerning the importance of maintaining self in the face of becoming a lifelong soulmate to the one you love. It was the kind of song that made you wish she was still writing and singing.
Well, after 28 years, Ann G (Angie Irons) is FINALLY releasing a new 8-song album that is revolutionary in that all of the sounds (including ones that sound like musical instruments) were all created vocally. And in the spirit of that quest to maintain self that she sang so beautifully of on “Hassle Free,” Ann G has created all of this new music – top to bottom – on her own with no assistance from her husband (who is now a concert sound engineer).
The first single is titled “Something’s Got to Give,” an urgent missive about the stresses of life in America today. Welcome back, Ann G. Thrilled upon your return.
10. Andrea Martin
The `90s were frustrating for me when I was Music Editor at Urban Network magazine because I witnessed firsthand so many super talented artists get lost along the way.
In addition to several of the above mentioned was the late Andrea Martin whom I wrote a cover story on for her one and only Arista Records project, The Best of Me (1998), led by her single from the soundtrack of the Black female action film “Set it Off.” Here was a beautiful, dark-skinned sister with a powerful voice who co-composed her own material (mostly with longtime partner Ivan Mattias) in a style all her own that blended light Reggae, Pop, Techno Soul and light Hip Hop that had Pop crossover potential for days.
I mean, she had songs that wouldn’t be out of place on an Eagles or Fleetwood Mac album. At the same time, she was living her best life as a songwriter penning hits for Toni Braxton (“I Love Me Some Him”), En Vogue [“Don’t Let Go (Love)”], Monica (“Before You Walk Out of My Life”), SWV (“You’re The One”) all the way up to Fantasia (“Lose to Win”).
To this day I’m unclear as to whether she became disillusioned by the way her album was handled/received or if she simply felt that she was happier behind the scenes in the lucrative writing/producing world. What I do overstand is that her album was strong enough to leave one wanting more…at least from time to time. I hope she becomes so inspired.- A. Scott Galloway