Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Two Recent Deaths

Lillian Leach (1936-2013)

Lillian Leach Boyd, the primary lead singer of the Mellows, died of lung cancer in a Bronx hospital on April 26, at the age of 76. She was one of the first and best female leads of R&B vocal groups. Although the Mellows had only local hits in New York City, her wistful ballads are very popular with vocal group fans.

Lillian Leach was born in Harlem on December 20, 1936. Her family moved to the Bronx when she was three. As a child, she sang in church and at talent shows. In late 1953, she met and sang with three men at a party who asked her to join their group: Johnny Wilson, first tenor; Harold Johnson, second tenor, and Norman “Polecat” Brown, bass. The name Mellows was chosen due to their preference for ballads.

Harold Johnson was a former member of the Crickets, so he introduced the group to their record producer, Joe Davis. They first recorded in July, 1954, when Ms. Leach was 17. Davis released four singles by the Mellows on his Jay Dee label. The second, “Smoke From Your Cigarette,” received heavy airplay from Alan Freed and was a regional hit in New York. The fourth, “Yesterday's Memories,” provided the title for a '70s collectors' magazine. They never sang at live shows because Ms. Leach suffered from stage fright.

Following some personnel changes, they released two singles on the Celeste label, and one, the minor key “Moon of Silver” on Candlelight (with Ms. Leach's name misprinted as Lillian Lee). By early 1957, Ms. Leach had retired to start a family. Several unreleased Celeste takes, some of them a cappella, were released on a '70s Relic LP, and are considered to be their best recordings. An out-of-print Relic CD, Yesterday's Memories, contains all their '50s recordings.

Fan interest led to a revival of the group in 1984, and they continued to perform at oldies shows in the Northeast until 2008. Here they are singing their biggest hit in 1995. Ms. Leach was the last surviving original member of the group.

Artie “Blues Boy” White (1937-2013)

Chicago soul-blues singer Artie “Blues Boy” White died on April 20 at age 76. He had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for several years. He was an outlier on the Chicago blues scene, since he sang in the deep soul style associated with folks like Bobby “Blue” Bland and Little Milton.

He was born on April 16, 1937 in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and sang with gospel groups as a child. He moved to Chicago in 1956, and first sang with bluesman Mighty Joe Young and his band. He scuffled for many years, recording sporadically for independent labels. His first hit was “The Leaning Tree” for Altee in 1977.

His debut album, Blues Boy, was released on Ronn in 1985. There followed a string of six successful CDs on Ichiban, and three more for the high profile Malaco subsidiary, Waldoxy. Here's his best-known Malaco recording, “Your Man is Home Tonight.”

His last four CDs were released by his own Achilltown label, the final one being Package Deal in 2005. After that, his health began to deteriorate. 

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