Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hark The Voice!

»Sincerity«, »soul-searching«, »hip«, »commercial« ... with these (somewhat contradictory) words BILLBOARD in its July 15, 1967, number characterized an album that had just been released:
Sincerity and perception are two qualities quite evident in the soul-searching renditions of Miss Sondra Williams in "God Bless the Child," "He's Got the Whole World in his Hands," and "He Included Me." She is so hip in today's style of pop music, that many of the cuts seem commercial - "Heartaches" and "Need Somebody," for example.
Atlantic LP # R-003 (1967)
This is the album: Sondra Williams' »Hark The Voice«, released in July 1967 as R-003 in the Atlantic Religious Series. Once again we come across here the widely discussed contrast between the worlds of pop and gospel music, and the Billboard review dwells largely on this point. Atlantic Records could not claim, in 1967, any tradition in publishing gospel music, the »Religious Series« was begun only in that year (and then continued, half-heartedly, until 1970, resulting in less than 30 LPs). And even though Miss Sondra Williams poses in religious attire on the cover, she is billed, under her name, as »Miss Heartaches«, albeit in brackets. This nick-name is explained more fully in the sleeve notes: »When she appeared at the famous Apollo Theater in New York, the audience responded so enthusiastically to her performance that they named her "Miss Heartaches".«

Sondra Williams from Stockton, Calif., had been singing since her childhood days in the church of her father, Rev. Austin E. Williams. Together with Andre Crouch (as he is billed on the LP, actually Andraé Edward Crouch, who contributed two songs for Sondra's album) and Billy Preston on organ she performed as member of the COGICs (»Church of God in Christ Singers«), who recorded two singles for the Simpson label (231, 273) between 1962 and 1965 and finally had an album out for Vee-Jay, in 1966 (Exodus 54: »Presenting the Cogics«). Using her own name Sondra Williams had a single, likewise on Vee-Jay (# 941: »He's Got The Whole World In His Hands« / »Heartache«), part of Vee-Jay's gospel-output. Then she recorded, as far as I could ascertain, nothing more until the time of the Atlantic LP.

»Just We Two« (Gordy LP 945, 1969)
In case few people today remember the name of the singer Sondra Williams, let them be reminded that she became better known under the name »Blinky« ... under this name Sondra recorded for Motown Records, after she got a contract in 1968. Between 1968 and 1973 Motown released nine pop singles by »Blinky«, one of them being a duet with Edwin Starr. Together with Edwin Starr she starred on the album »Just We Two«, and a number of further recordings were buried in the Motown vaults (and have recently come to light on some CD releases). In October 1971 an obscure LP from Motown hit the market, entitled »Rock Gospel: The Key To The Kingdom« (Motown M-743L). On this LP we find Blinky alongside Valerie Simpson, The Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & The Pips, among others. More information was posted in a Motown-forum. After 1974 Sondra-Blinky turned again to gospel music.

Let us speak now of the Atlantic LP R-003. In fact, the songs on this album are a curious mixture of pop and gospel: Sondra's vocal performance in a number of songs dangerously borders on the style you would expect from a night-lounge singer, exhaling her smooth voice right into the electronic sound-nerves of a lip-touching microphone. In other instances, she sounds rather jazzy ... And, as if to counteract these secular features, Sondra is in general accompanied by a churchy organ, while the songs are ornamented by even more churchy, yet slightly disturbing chimes. You can hear that nicely on Sondra's version of Billie Holiday's »God Bless The Child«. (There is another, male, vocalist on this recording, which I could not identify.)

The second song that you can listen to in the following is »Need Somebody«. The sleeve notes credit this song to Sondra Williams (»Trad. Arr. Sondra Williams«), and indeed a song by this title is not known, before 1970, except from this LP. I cannot say whether it is identical with (or similar to) another song, viz. »You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Side«, recorded by the (Famous) Davis Sisters in 1958 on Savoy # 4101 (rec. on Aug. 23, 1957). Whatever. Billboard qualified this song neatly as »commercial«, and this is correct if this is to mean that it sounds rather like R&B than gospel, being thus a good example for »soul-gospel« (or whatever you like to call it). Sondra's faultless performance and the secular appeal of this and similar songs on the album may have been responsible for procuring Sondra the Motown contract she got the following year. Both songs, as the entire LP, have been recorded on March 21, 1967, at Audio Arts Studio, Hollywood. The session was produced by Richard Simpson who had already produced the COGICs.

Sondra Williams: »Need Somebody« / »God Bless The Child« from the Atlantic LP # R-003 (1967):

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