Born: July 21, 1945
Died: March 30, 2017
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: at thirteen, Hamlin began performing with a country western band, lying about her age to add three years and accepting tips for payment.
Hamlin’s first break came about two years later. She wrote the lyrics for a song called “Angel Baby,” and then assembled a band to record it with her at a recording studio in San Marcos, California. “In those days,” writes Hamlin, “San Marcos was out in the middle of no-where. Los Angeles was too far for us. I remember seeing cows and farms as far as the eye could see. We finally arrived at this place that looked to us like an old barn. It was actually an old airplane hanger. The owner had airplane parts all over the place.” The record was released on Highland Records.
With help from Alan Freed, who was then based in Los Angeles working for KDAY while fighting payola charges back east, “Angel Baby” became surprise hit for the group. The song peaked at #5 on the Billboard charts in early 1961 and gained some notice in the trade press. Disc magazine noted with interest the sudden rise of a fifteen-year-old “Mexican schoolgirl” (Hamlin’s mother was Mexican) who was part of a surge of very young teen stars popular at the time.
Impressed with Hamlin, Jackie Wilson helped her to secure a recording contract with his label at the time, Brunswick. Although she never replicated the success of “Angel Baby,” she continued to record and perform and opened for a number of major acts. “I consider myself fortunate to have worked with Johnny Otis, Big Joe Turner, Big Momma Thornton, Thurston Harris, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard,” she writes. “I’ve worked with Freddy Fender and all of the East Los Angeles Groups. Malo, Tierra, and El Chicano to name a few. When the Rolling Stones came to America, I opened for them in San Diego.” Her hit, “Angel Baby,” also had a continued life: Hamlin was particularly honored that John Lennon covered it in the early 1970s, but it was also recorded by Linda Ronstadt and the original version remained popular on oldies format radio.
Hamlin married at sixteen and had three children. After her life as a recording artist, she focused her career on education; in addition to singing, she was an art teacher and a painter. She suffered from fibromyalgia and retired in 2011. Hamlin wrote of struggling both physically and financially, in part because she had difficulty proving that she—and not Originals guitarist David Ponci—had written “Angel Baby” and working through the complexities of a hit record born out of an amateur production. She passed away in 2017.
Rosie and the Originals, “Angel Baby”/ “Give Me Love.” Highland 1011, 1960.
Rosie formerly of the Originals, “Lonely Blue Nights” / “We’ll Have a Chance.” Brunswick 55205, 1961.
Rosie formerly of the Originals, “My Darling Forever” / “The Time Is Near.” Brunswick 55213, 1961.
“Why Did You Leave Me” / “Angel from Above” Highland 1025, 1961.
Dick Tatham, “POST BAG: School–agers are taking over now,” Disc, 6 May 1961, 163.
“Artists’ Biographies,” Billboard Music Week 27 March 1961, 72.
David Hinckley, “Rosie Hamlin: Yessir, That’s Lennon’s ‘Baby’,” Daily News (New York), 27 June 1991.
“Hamlin, Rosalie Méndez (1945– )” in Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Vicki L. Ruiz, Virginia Sánchez Korrol (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006), 308.
Associated Press, “Rose Hamlin, a One-Hit Wonder With ‘Angel Baby,’ Dies at 71,” 5 April 2017.
Rosalie Hamlin, “Autobiography of Rosalie Hamlin,” http://www.rosieandtheoriginals.com/wordpress/biographies/autobiography-of-rosalie-hamlin (accessed 20 December 2018).