As some of you will know, it has been over a year since my last blog post here. I've had various ideas come to mind, but nothing seemed quite compelling enough. However, today that's changed. Last night, the news came down from her manager that Loleatta Holloway, one of the greatest vocalists to emerge from disco had passed away yesterday (March 21) at the age of 64..
An incredibly sad moment, speaking not only personally but for the disco and dance community at large. In my own life, while I've never had the opportunity to see her perform live, Loleatta was an inextricable part of my own personal soundtrack, having been one of the first voices to capture my heart back at a time when I was just starting to seriously explore the world of disco. Hearing Walter Gibbons' 12" Mix of "Hit & Run," on my old Salsoul Classics CD, Gibbons' handiwork and Loleatta's vocals put together, turned what was an already good, albeit innocuous Norman Harris piece of Philly disco with lyrics about "an old fashioned country girl," into an explosive masterpiece of soul, rhythm and release.. Her wailing vamps, sighs and extended ad-libbed vocal runs over the song's rhythm track turned "Hit & Run," from merely a good tune into something that I could only describe as head music, disco-style. Those 9 + minutes of Loleatta stand, among other things, as a testament to the underrated artistry of a true, gifted vocalist. Anyone who thought of disco as a sterile, soulless medium had obviously never heard a Loleatta Holloway song.
Loleatta Holloway - Hit & Run
Uploaded by frandisco00
In recent days, there had been some rumblings about her ill health. Starting on Sunday, there were vague, cryptic posts about "keeping Loleatta in your prayers" scattered across message boards and Facebook circles. Many of the posts seemed to have originated from an on-air announcement from the Chicago radio station V103, where a relative had made contact, asking programmers to play some of her music. Later that night, after posting what I had heard on Twitter, I soon heard from her manager, Ron Richardson (@RonAtHushtown), who tweeted back, asking me to contact him to get the full, correct information.
I had been told that Loleatta had reportedly suffered a heart attack not long ago and had been placed in a medically induced coma, as a result. While her condition seemed to be improving just before her passing (she was reportedly off life support and breathing on her own), sadly, it wasn't enough to pull her through.
While disco has often and correctly been cited as a producers' medium, the identity of the singer (as the traditional artist) often submerged in the production; the opposite argument could easily be made for Loleatta. For one thing, there was absolutely nothing anonymous about Loleatta's voice and in her case, there was probably nothing that captured the full glory of her vocals quite like her disco tracks. Initially at a loss to fill all of the extra time she had on these new disco tracks she had to record; her greatest disco moments turned out less like mere songs and more like musical canvases; a medium which gave her the latitude to display the full expanse of her fiery, spirited vocal power like never before (or since).
On a more sobering note however, I had read somewhere that when asked about the subject of royalties, Ms. Loleatta could give an earful whenever the subject was broached. I had later posed the subject to Dayna Newman, when she was soliciting questions for an interview she had lined up with her for discomusic.com, just to see what sort of response she'd give. It was dismaying, though not entirely surprising to read her answer. And while I understand she probably did fairly well for herself overall, she bluntly said that as far as royalties were concerned, she had never seen any; that artists like her had to rely mostly on gigs in order to capitalize on the success of their records. And that, apparently, was the censored explanation.
In that way, being the most sampled voice in dance music, a seminal bridge between the worlds of disco and house, was likely a mixed blessing of sorts. While it cemented her legendary status and relevance well beyond the realms of disco and R&B, it was also a situation that at times (see the infamous Black Box controversy) seemed to highlight the shady ends of the music business and the often unfair way artists of her time (and of her race, it should be said) were often exploited.
Ellis D - My Loleatta
Uploaded by RJJNY
Yet, while she never became a household name like some of her contemporaries in the disco world, she remains undoubtedly one of the most beloved, iconic vocalists to have emerged from disco. The rapid, immense outpouring of love and respect on Twitter, in the twelve hours following the announcement of her passing spoke to the incredible appreciation audiences felt for her (Loleatta Holloway was trending worldwide for much of that time) and her contributions. In the greatest way, she encapsulated the key qualities of the quintessential diva; that combination of strength and vulnerability; of sadness, joy and intensity of feeling that came through in her persona (as immortalized in Junior Vasquez' AKA Ellis D's My Loleatta bootleg), the same qualities she had amplified though her voice in the greatest gospel tradition. It is perhaps for that reason why myself and so many others took her to their hearts. So for those of you who have shared (and for those who have yet to) in the joy, passion and pain of Loleatta; you, as the lady herself once said, are the lucky ones.
Rest easy, Loleatta.
Update: Loleatta's manager, Ron Richardson, recently tweeted information about her homegoing service in Chicago, to be held March 31st.
PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
WHITNEY DOES LOLEATTA.. (FRIDAY AUGUST 7, 2009)
DISCO DELIVERY #36: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY - QUEEN OF THE NIGHT (1978, GOLD MIND/SALSOUL) (WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 28, 2007)
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY OBITUARY (GUESTBOOK)
NEW YORK TIMES - MUSIC: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY, GOSPEL AND DISCO SINGER, IS DEAD AT 64 (BY JON PARELES) (MARCH 23, 2011)
BBC NEWS: DISCO SINGER LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY DIES AT 64 (MARCH 22, 2011)
THE INDEPENDENT - OBITUARY: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (BY PIERRE PERRONE) (FRIDAY MARCH 25, 2011)
BILLBOARD.COM: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY, DISCO SINGER, DIES AT 64 (BY JASON LIPSHUTZ) (MARCH 22, 2011)
EXCLAIM.CA: DISCO GREAT LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY DIES AT 64 (BY DAVID DACKS) (MARCH 22, 2011)
THE GUARDIAN - MUSIC BLOG: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY: MORE THAN A VOICE (BY BEN BEAUMONT THOMAS) (MARCH 22, 2011)
SOULMUSIC.COM - TRIBUTE TO LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY, 1946-2011 (BY DAVID NATHAN)
JOE.MY.GOD: DISCO LEGEND LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY DIES AT 64 (TUESDAY MARCH 22, 2011)
HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (1946-2011) (TUESDAY MARCH 22, 2011)
LOVE IN C MINOR: RIP LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (MARCH 22, 2011)
FAITHFANZINE: TERRY FARLEY REMEMBERS LOLEATTA (TUESDAY MARCH 22, 2011)
HI-FI MAGAZINE: RIP: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (MARCH 22, 2011)
POP TRASH ADDICTS: GOODNIGHT, MS. HOLLOWAY (TUESDAY MARCH 22, 2011)
THE GOLDEN ERA GOSPEL BLOG: R.I.P. LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (TUESDAY MARCH 22, 2011)
BOINGBOING: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY, DISCO AND SOUL VOCALIST, HAS DIED (BY XENI JARDIN) (TUESDAY MARCH 22, 2011)
SOULMUSIC.COM - CLASSIC FEATURE: 1977 INTERVIEW WITH LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (BY DAVID NATHAN)
SOULMUSIC.COM - CLASSIC FEATURE: 1975 INTERVIEW WITH LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (BY JOHN ABBEY)
DISCO-DISCO.COM - INTERVIEW WITH LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY
DISCOMUSIC.COM - INTERVIEW WITH LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (BY DAYNA NEWMAN)
DJHISTORY.COM - INTERVIEW WITH LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY (BY BILL BREWSTER)
WHOSAMPLED - LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY
JAHSONIC: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY
CATEGORIES: IN MEMORIAM..