Edna McGriff ©1999JCMarion
Edna is a talented teenager at Washington Irving High School in New York City. She is a singer, songwriter, and a pianist. In June of 1951 she mulls contract offers from both Apollo and Jubilee Records. She decides to sign with Jerry Blaine at Jubilee, and time for a recording session is planned. By September of that year her first record is issued - "Note Droppin' Papa" / "Come Back". Nothing much becomes of that session and at the end of the year she is back in the studio, this time with Buddy Lucas and his combo. Early in 1952 Jubilee releases "Heavenly Father" / "I Love You". To differentiate the 'A' side "Heavenly Father", from appearing as a straight gospel music performance, the song is subtitled "A Prayer For Love" in all trade advertising. By the spring of that year it is apparent that this record is becoming a huge seller. It starts to appear on pop music charts and racks up huge sales in markets usually not receptive to R & B discs. And as always in these instances, the pop cover versions start to appear. First is one by Fran Warren, then the Four Lads, and Evelyn Knight. On the strength of the huge success of the record Edna headlines a show for a week at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia. From there to the Midwest and a number of one nighters with Ohio dj Alan "Moondog" Freed which are huge draws. One such show "The Dance Caravan of R & B Stars" attracts turn away crowds.
For the followup release, Jubilee tries an interesting arrangement. They pair Edna with Orioles lead singer Sonny Til and have them record two pop standards "I Only Have Eyes For You" / "Once In A While". Following the usual derivative format of record producers of the time the next solo release by Edna McGriff repeats the devotional overtones of the successful first record. "Pray For A Better World" / "In A Chapel By The Side Of The Road" are the two songs that are paired by the label. Hopes for a second charted record are not realized and Jubilee goes for another pairing with Sonny Til on "Picadilly" / "Good" a somewhat strange set of choices. Edna McGriff does a number of holiday shows with Sonny and the Orioles. In early 1953 Jubilee releases "Edna's Blues" / "Why Oh Why" as the now seventeen year old takes some time off to recuperate from the effects of her strenuous schedule.
In the late spring Jubilee issues "Scrap Of Paper" / "Be Gentle With Me". The first extensive tour of the Midwest comes about during the summer. In support of the tour Jubilee issues "These Things Shall Pass" / "I'll Surrender Anytime" None of the subsequent recordings sell in any numbers anywhere near that of Edna's first disc. The holiday season finds McGriff doing some shows on the island of Bermuda. Early the following year Jubilee decides to move her to the Josie label. They issue "I'll Be Around" / "Ooh Little Daddy" but that too sinks almost without a trace. In the fall she signs to record with Favorite Records, a low priced line with no hope of airplay and only sporadic sales. She still has enough name power to appear at the Apollo in October on a bill with the Clovers. She remains with the discount label Bell Records which sell thirty five cent seven inch 78rpm records. Edna McGriff seems to disappear from the music scene at the age of 20. She mounts something of a comeback in 1957 with a new label and a new record. "I Get The Felling" and "I Hurt Too Much To Cry" are released on the Gale record label. This release is not a good seller and later in the year was sold to Decca which re-released the two tunes on the Brunswick label on #55023 (rather than on Coral which was the original plan. Nothing much is heard from McGriff after this event.
However, "Heavenly Father" remains in our memory. A wonderful straight forward vocal by a singer who sounds much more mature than her sixteen plus years. A great melody with superb understated backup by Buddy Lucas and band with organ accents and that strange out-of-place-but-it-fits Hawaiian guitar. If that is all there is then it is a wonderful musical legacy.
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