Faye Adams was from the Newark area of New Jersey, where she grew up performing gospel. “As long as I can remember, I was traveling around the country making appearances as a religious singer,” she recalled. Adams later began to make a name for herself in secular music as Faye Scruggs (her married name—her husband, Tommy Scruggs, also became her manager). Adams’s big break came when Ruth Brown brought Count Basie and Marshall Royal to see her perform in Atlanta, likely in 1952.
LaVern Baker was born in Chicago in 1929. Sources vary as to what her name was at birth: Chip Deffaa reports that Delores Williams, frequently given in other secondary sources as her birth name, was actually a name from an early marriage. Other sources indicate that she was born Delores Baker. She grew up loving music. Baker’s aunt was blues singer Merline Johnson, who was a great influence on Baker as a young girl.
Molly Bee was born Molly Gene Beachboard in Oklahoma City. She was raised in Tucson, Arizona, before her family moved to Los Angeles to support her career. From a very young age, Bee garnered a reputation for a charismatic stage persona. When Tucson radio personality Rex Allen saw her at age ten performing in a school play, he immediately engaged her to sing on his program.
The Bonnie Sisters were inspired by the many other sister groups of the forties and fifties, but they were not actually related. Rather, they were all nurses who worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. The group’s members were Sylvia Totten, Eugenia Borgia, and Patricia Ryan. All three women had been singers before going to nursing school. Inspired by a 1954 sister group recording (the De John Sisters’ “No More”), they spontaneously burst into a performance of the song in the hospital cafeteria, apparently receiving an enthusiastic response from passers-by.
Kansas City, Missouri, native Priscilla Bowman first rose to national prominence as vocalist for jazz musician Jay McShann and his orchestra. Together, they had a hit with “Hands Off,” which rose to the top of Billboard’s R&B charts in 1955. Bowman has co-writing credit on the song. Bowman toured and performed both with McShann and on her own. The Chicago Defender noted in 1957 that “attendance records were shattered last week at the K&K Regal Theater where Al Benson, Chicago’s disc jockey, staged a star-studded show.
Born Lillan Biggs in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Search Lillian Briggs’s name in music trade magazines from the mid 1950s, and you will quickly come across her rags-to-riches story: former truck driver becomes rock and roll star: “A 23-year-old former brunette truck driver, now a blonde entertainer with one of the hottest acts in show business…”
Ruth Brown was born Ruth Alson Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia. She was raised in Virginia and in Macon, North Carolina, where she spent summers helping her grandmother sharecrop. Brown developed an interest in music very young, sneaking out to hear shows and eventually, to sing out herself. “I dearly wanted to discuss my developing interest in singing for a living,” she writes in her autobiography, “but I knew Dad would hit the roof if I did.”
Lillie Bryant, later Bryant Howard, was half of the R&B duo Billie and Lillie (with with Billie Ford, sometimes spelled Billy). Bryant is from Newburgh, New York. She started singing in church, and then at the age of 14, appeared at one of the Apollo Theater’s amateur nights where she won second prize for performing Ruth Brown’s “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” As a teenager, she performed at various clubs in New York City.
Linda Burnette has only one known record: “Rattle Bones Rock,” backed with “My Old Model T,” on the Perry label out of Port Clinton, Ohio. Burnette, also a resident of north central Ohio, is credited as the songwriter of “Rattle Bones Rock.”
Jo Ann Campbell started out in show business at a young age with designs on being a dancer. When Campbell reached high school, her parents decided to move their talented teenager from Jacksonville, Florida, to New York City. There, she continued to train and work as a dancer while simultaneously becoming fascinated with Alan Freed’s programming and the emergent genre of rock and roll. “If I wasn’t out dancing somewhere, I was in my bedroom with the door shut, listening to Alan Freed,” she told writer Bruce Pollock.