Wynona Carr was born and raised in Cleveland, where she grew up singing in church. She began singing on the radio at the age of thirteen, and performed with and directed several gospel groups in the region, including the Turner Singers, the Carr Singers, and the Wings Over Jordan Choir. At twenty-one, she led a Detroit-based Baptist chorus that included Aretha Franklin and Della Reese. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, she received increasing recognition as a solo singer and was billed as “Sister Wynona Carr.”
Formed in the Bronx, New York in the early 1950s, the Chantels were among the first African-American female vocal groups to gain national attention. The group originally brought together the five voices of Arlene Smith (who typically sang lead), Lois Harris (first soprano), Millicent “Sonia” Goring (second soprano), Jackie Landry (first alto), and Renee Minus (second alto).
Darla Daret (later Darla Daret Stevens) of Los Angeles was a singer with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. As a solo performer, however, she began recording rock and roll and teen-oriented pop—including songs she wrote herself. Several of her sides for Swan Records in 1959 are under the pseudonym “Patty Saturday.”
Varetta Dillard was born in Harlem and attended Morris High School in the Bronx. Dillard’s popularity arose through her appearances on the Apollo’s “Amateur Night in Harlem” show beginning in the 1940s. New Jersey-based Savoy Records signed the promising young singer in 1951, and she quickly did well for the label. She was most famous for “Easy, Easy Baby,” (1952) and “Mercy, Mr. Percy” (1953), both of which performed well on the R&B charts and helped to raise her national profile.
Dixon started her career in music largely by entering competitions, including scoring an appearance on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. She went on tour with comedian and country performer Red Ingle, and then she landed work at the Copacabana in New York City. While at the Copa, Dixon met and worked with bandleader and arranger Phil Moore—known as the “starmaker” for his help in providing musical training for stars including Betty Grable, Lena Horne, and Marilyn Monroe.
Shirley Goodman was half of the R&B duo Shirley & Lee in the 1950s, alongside Leonard Lee. Goodman and Lee were both raised in New Orleans, and as teenagers, they conviced Cosimo Matassa to record a demo record for them at his studio. They landed at Aladdin Records and were initially they were billed as “the Sweethearts of the Blues.”
Joyce Green’s only surviving recording, “Black Cadillac” b/w “Tomorrow,” is a cult hit among modern-day rockabilly fans. The song, attributed to Green on the label, depicts a jilted lover fantasizing about murdering her lover with a pistol and putting him in a “black cadillac.” Secondary sources indicate that Green was from Alabama and was born in 1940.
Shirley Gunter is often credited with helping to jumpstart the popularity of R&B girl groups in the 1950s. Gunter grew up in a musical family, singing and writing music with her mother and her brother Cornell (who went on to become a member of the Coasters).
Rosie Hamlin was born in Oregon and grew up in Alaska and California. She loved music from early childhood, when her father would accompany her singing with his guitar. She recalled in the “autobiography” section of her website that both her father and grandfather had a “vaudeville type background,” which in turn influenced her. “I can remember being 4 or 5 years old,” she writes, “standing on an old box in the yard pretending it was a stage.” It did not take her long to find a real stage to occupy.
Patsy Holcomb recorded one fully-produced single, “I Wanna Rock” backed with “Ooh! That’s Good,” and a few demos at Sun Records. Her work was never released by the label.