The definitions of Soul Music can be extremely amorphous. It basically comes down to the definition that if you feel connected beyond the words of the music you’re listening to, it’s Soul.
So by that definition I can find Soul in Judy Garland, Patsy Cline and Edith Piaf. And of course I can find it in the density of the full orchestral sound that became the calling card of The Royalettes.
Formed in Baltimore in 1961, They were sisters Sheila And Anita Ross and Cousins Terry Jones and Veronica Brown. They got their big break through with their perfectly harmonized cover of The Chantels “He’s Gone”, performing it to win the amateur contest presented on Baltimore’s The Buddy Deane Show (Which, if you know your movie/Broadway history, is the show the Corny Collins Show was based on in the Hairspray movie/musical).
Their win lead them to a contract with Chancellor records, with “No Big Thing” coming and going, and “Blue Summer” bubbling under at #122pop during 1963
“Blue Summer” set an artistic template that they would find their most success with: Sheila’s willowy but intermittently powerful Soprano lead over lush backgrounds, with the accelerator pedal to the floorboard into Uptown Soul arrangements, lush strings, timpani, muted horns.
eventually this Bacharach on Steroids approach would bring a hit.
But not after a cover of The Velvelettes “There He Goes” (and a label switch to Warner Brothers), A formal cover of “He’s Gone” (and a contract with MGM records and a production deal with Teddy Randazzo) and a version of “Watch What Happens” went by virtually unnoticed.
Randazzo was the producer behind the resurgence of Little Anthony & The Imperials, the man who blessed us with that 1960s chestnut of crazy “Going Out Of My Head” and the last great baron of the Uptown soul style.
By 1965 Burt Bacharach was moving Dionne Warwick towards MOR, Maxine Brown was trying to recast herself as Kim Weston Meets The Supremes, and Dusty Springfield was tinkering with Italian Ballads. The Imperials resurgence with 3 top 20 baroque tributes to this unrespected form of Soul Music (along with brief flares from a Post Motown Mary Wells and Jackie Ross) proved their was still room in America’s ears for sweet strings and soulful longing
and 3rd time was a charm… sort of…
In June 1965, “It’s Gonna Take A Miracle” was released… And it took off.. In New York, Philadelphia, And Detroit. All major East Coast Markets it rapidly appeared in the Top 10 listings…
But on the west coast, in the midst of the first stirrings of psychedelia and Folk didn’t catch on, and nationally their big break peaked at #28 R&B, Pop #41.
But being the decent big break it was, it opened the door for their first full length LP, Appearances like the clip above on National TV and offers to Tour all over the US and in England. The sweet soul ballad “I Want to Meet Him” (R&b#26, Pop#72) and the split single “You Bring Me Down” and “Only When Your Lonely” were culled from the LP and fought for airplay on the charts.
Undaunted by their lack of chart action, Randazzo pulled out all of the stops for their next LP, using a 21 piece orchestra for the masterpiece of Uptown Soul (and the blueprint for early 70s Philly Soul) The Elegant Sounds of The Royalettes
Even The Supremes were not set in such rich, lush, complex and frankly all out artistically gratifying surroundings. To me one of the best Soul LPs ever to be released (combination of great songs, great singing, and excellent muscianship) It was possibly the only LP released by a female act up to that point outside of Jazz done as a complete piece. And it shows. Even in the diversity of material, there’s a common thread of lushness and unity.
Despite the fact that there was 3 singles pulled, none of them charted. From the “Miracle” doppelganger hope “It’s Better Not to Know”
To the man stealing “I Don’t Want to be the One”
To the Vandellas Via Symphony “When Summer’s Gone”
The LP and the songs faded from memory, and Uptown Soul basically died a silent and uncelebrated death at the same time… except MGM tried one more time, with a new producer, Righteous Brother Bill Medley, having successfully copied Phil Spector’s style and gone #1 came up with a Randazzo meets Spector Cinderella Waltz with enough charm, “He Is (My Man)”
Again… not noticed… and released from their contract, The Royalettes tried once more with Roulette records. But their cover of Barbara Banks “River of Tears” seemed rushed and forced… and after 6 years, marriage, family, and normalcy did what it did to almost every Girl Group of the 1960s. They Broke up.
Sheila became a Playboy Bunny, Anita, Terry, and Veronica just went on to normal suburban lives.
But their legacy of rich lush work was influential almost immediately on the works of Laura Nyro (her tribute album to soul music was even titled Gonna Take a Miracle and it’s a oft covered song) Minnie Ripperton and Deniece Williams, along with songwriter Linda Creed and Gamble & Huff, who crafted lush music through the 70s based on the Randazzo/Royalette Principle.
Whenever in doubt, make it smooth