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  1. #1
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    Carolyn Crawford Is the Best Motown Singer You’ve Never Heard Of

    Article from RollingStone.com:

    On a bright Saturday morning in the summer of 1963, 13-year-old Carolyn Crawford walked onto the stage of Detroit’s Fox Theatre and sat behind a piano. She had to bring her A game to this performance, the finals of the Tip-Top Talent Contest, hosted by a local gospel and R&B station. Crawford had collected untold numbers of Tip-Top bread wrappers to get there, and now it was her turn to compete for the grand prize: a four-year contract with Motown Records.

    She began to sing “Laughing Boy” by her idol, Mary Wells, adding an extra verse for good measure. Her ingenuity, combined with honeyed vocals that stung with the emotional depth of someone at least twice her age, secured Crawford’s first-place finish.

    Shortly after the contest, Crawford and her mother took a meeting with Motown founder Berry Gordy. “He asked if I had any questions for him, and I had three,” says the now-74-year-old woman from her Detroit home. “The first was, ‘Can I write my own songs?’ And he said, ‘Can you write?’ And I said, ‘I believe I can.’” Her second request was to keep her given name. And the third was that she wanted to be on the Motown label, “the one with the big blue M — I didn’t want to be on VIP, Gordy, Soul, or any of those other ones,” she says.

    Considering how many of today’s artists struggle to maintain creative control over their work, from Tinashe’s label woes in the 2010s to Taylor Swift’s battle over the rights to her masters, it’s hard not to marvel at the moxie of a 13-year-old girl demanding a powerful music executive bend to her will — let alone the fact that she did so a full six decades ago. But within minutes of meeting Crawford, whom friends call “a firecracker,” it’s clear she’s always been fearless. She’s the kind of woman who, in her mid-twenties, would show up unannounced at the Philadelphia International offices and ask for a meeting with the songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. “They weren’t there, but I left my name and number,” Crawford says. “About a week later Leon Huff called me and said he was interested. He gave me an airplane ticket to come out and record.”

    She’s also the kind of woman who would dash off a handwritten note with her CV and contact info for a music journalist visiting her current place of work, a fantastic used record store in Detroit specializing in rare soul 45s. This is, incidentally, how we met last year, and why I’ve been tumbling down her rabbit hole of a résumé ever since, from Motown to Philadelphia International to work with the groups Chapter 8 and Hodges, James, Smith, and Crawford to her collaborations with drummer Hamilton Bohannon on classic disco hits like “Let’s Start the Dance,” not to mention the two solo albums she released on Mercury Records in the late ’70s. To this day, Crawford performs club gigs, and she even has a new-old record coming out this month — a seven-inch of two unreleased songs she recorded with former Motown songwriter and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson in 1972, due Feb. 23 on the British reissue label Ace/Kent.

    But back to that initial meeting with Gordy: “Whether I was a megastar or not or ever will be, he gave me those three wishes, and I’m well satisfied with that,” Crawford says. “I did my very first recording ever at Motown at midnight on my 14th birthday.” Produced by Holland & Dozier and written by Crawford, “Forget About Me” appeared on the 51st entry in Motown’s single series. Sadly, the track, which is as buoyant and bittersweet as some of the label’s biggest hits, has been, for the most part, forgotten.

    Crawford’s second Motown single, “My Smile Is Just a Frown [Turned Upside Down],” performed better, hitting No. 39 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues charts. Janie Bradford, Motown’s receptionist-turned-songwriter, calls the track a “favorite” in Susan Whitall’s 2017 oral history, Women of Motown [Second Edition]. “I thought that was pretty unique,” Bradford said of the song, which she co-wrote with Smokey Robinson and Stevenson. “It kind of hit and missed the charts, it never really peaked. But from that song we got a cult following for the last 30 or 35 years. Everybody overseas knows about that song and Carolyn Crawford, but it did nothing here.”

    Article continues with post #2.
    Last edited by Motown Eddie; 02-23-2024 at 03:00 PM.

  2. #2
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    Carolyn Crawford article from RollingStone.com continues;

    One of those overseas fans, Phil Dick, was introduced to ’60s soul music at a local youth club in Yorkshire, England. By then, American audiences had moved on to funk and disco, he says, but interest in the music released by labels like Motown, Stax, and Volt “never really waned in the U.K. In the north of England, we wanted to continue listening to music with that specific beat and sound, so we went searching for more and more obscure records.” A regional scene began to coalesce around all-night dance parties playing the style of music known as Northern soul [coined by London journalist Dave Godin in 1968].Listening to the music became a way to let off steam after working hard in a factory all week,” Dick says. “It was a way to become somebody other than just another face on the assembly line.”

    Dick was particularly fond of the Motown label and began collecting every record he could get his hands on. He’s visited Detroit around 60 times; he and his wife, Kim, were even married under the Hitsville USA sign at the Motown Museum. In 2017, the couple began organizing Detroit A Go Go, a recurring event that draws a group of Northern soul fans to the city for concerts by some of the label’s most beloved — and unsung — stars. Crawford has performed at every one.

    “Carolyn is a force of nature,” Dick says. “She’s very forthright. You know exactly where you stand with her at any given moment, but she’s had a rough ride from the music industry. She’s ultra-talented, and in reality, she should have been an international superstar. Of course there are a lot of people who are very talented — and talent is only part of the secret to success — but she’s had a lot of hard knocks and not enough of the breaks that she really should have. She should be set, not having to worry about how to pay the utility bills or if she can afford to get the clutch fixed on her car.”

    Dick’s voice softens as he adds, “It’s sad, but her music is just wonderful. The fact that she was able, at the tender age of 13, to persuade Berry Gordy to let her write her own songs — that’s just really, really special,” he says. He urges me to listen to the 1964 recording of “I’ll Come Running,” the Crawford-penned B-side to “My Smile Is Just a Frown” and his personal favorite.

    Dan Austin, a Detroit-based DJ with Motor City Soul Club, says Crawford’s story is reflected in the hundreds of talented yet forgotten soul artists in Detroit and throughout the country. “Everybody loves Motown and the big hits, but don’t you know ‘Baby Love’ or ‘Sir Duke’ by heart by now? Don’t you want to hear something every bit as good?” he asks. “It always bothered me that there were all these people in Britain who knew all the words to a J.J. Barnes song from 60 years ago, but seemingly nobody here in his native Detroit even knew who he was. And now he’s gone, and we’re losing these legends at a terrifying rate. It’s what makes Carolyn even more amazing — she is a dynamo on stage who can still give many of today’s performers a run for their money. She’s an increasingly rare link to an era and quality of music that I personally don’t feel will ever be matched. She’s an international treasure.”

    When I ask Crawford what advice she might give to that 13-year-old girl on stage at the Fox Theatre, she lets out a sigh. “I have no advice for that girl back then,” she says. “I think she did whatever she had to do. She had to experience what she had to experience, and it’s brought me to this point now where I’m not trying to be everybody’s friend or even be that likable. I’m not trying to turn anybody off either, but I am who I am because of what I’ve been through.”


    Crawford plans to keep singing for as long as she’s able. “When I open my mouth, nothing could come out,” she says. “I’ve seen people go through things like that.” Crawford doesn’t offer a specific name, but it’s possible she’s referring to her hero, Mary Wells, who suffered from laryngeal cancer. “You’ve got to get some knocks and bruises on you so you know how to get back up, because it’s a fight to the end, no matter what you’re doing,” she says. “But I’m good with what I’ve been given.”


    A few days after our conversation, I see the news on social media about the U.K. label releasing two of her old recordings, “Get Up and Move” and “Sugar Boy.” When I text Crawford to congratulate her, she replies with “It’s 52 years old, and I’m thankful to be alive to witness it happening.” Tagged to the end of her text: a thumbs-up and sparkly heart emoji.

  3. #3
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    Great post. I understand Carolyn is a feisty lady [[in a good way). Well regarded by her fellow artistes.

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    Her Motown recordings are indeed exceptional. She has such a beautiful voice. I do wonder if there are any live recordings by here still trapped in the vault?

    Thanks for posting this article Motown Eddie!

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    Carolyn is a real sweetheart. I first met her in the early 90's when she worked as a "Vandella" for Martha Reeves at the House of Blues in Disneys' City Walk, Orlando. We had great conversations about our mutual favorite singer, Mary Wells.

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    It's a shame that Carolyn didn't make it big at Motown. She had the voice and the personality, and Smokey was her producer -- seemingly a match made in Heaven. Not sure why Berry cut her off after the unsuccessful release of "When Someone's Good To You" b/w "My Heart" -- which were my favorite of her Motown recordings. I really enjoyed Carolyn's Motorcity Productons and would have gladly supported her recorded output had she continued.

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    Maybe you have come across this one?
    Issued in 2019 by "KENT" records on 45, only a small number issued on the 40th anniversary of the Northern Soul Club at 100 Club at Century House, 100 Oxford St, London W1D 1LL. In 2021. KENT records later issued the song on a compilation CD "Northern Soul's Classiest Rarities Volume 7"
    Unissued Motown Related?: Carolyn Crawford "Ready Or Not Here Come's Love" Recorded 1971

    Last edited by Graham Jarvis; 02-24-2024 at 06:01 AM.

  8. #8
    I could be considered biased but this is my favourite CC track

    https://youtu.be/ArENcgmaEiE?si=gwjN5uPbnOswFM0h

  9. #9
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    Thanks Paul.
    It is a great double CD "A Cellar Full Of Motown" [Which I Have] but a long time since 2002, I would also agree that "Until You Came Along" Carolyn's is a better song than the one above, but having to wait till 2019 its not too bad.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by SatansBlues View Post
    Her Motown recordings are indeed exceptional. She has such a beautiful voice. I do wonder if there are any live recordings by here still trapped in the vault?
    I looked up Carolyn Crawford's entry at the Don't Forget The Motor City webiste and I couldn't find any live recordings listed by her during her time at Motown. However there's a single by Carolyn, "Get Up And Move"/"Sugar Boy", that Ace Records released recently. Here's the details:

    Carolyn Crawford - Get Up And Move / Sugar Boy - Ace Records

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by paul_nixon View Post
    I could be considered biased but this is my favourite CC track
    That's a good one! Carolyn's "Until You Came Along" is one of my favorites from A Cellarful of Motown, Vol. 1.

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