Joan Shaw : The Lady Sings ©2000 JCMarion


Joan Shaw is another of the women artists in the days of the R & B era that predated the rise of rock 'n roll that never really gets her due when the history of the music is written. She was first announced to the world in the trade press in the spring of 1950 by one of the new players on the major record label scene, MGM Records. During a talent search in South Florida in late 1949, Shaw was discovered during a stay as a vocalist in a small Miami nightclub. Soon MGM had her in the recording studio and gave their new singer the press buildup with favorable comparisons to Kay Starr and Sarah Vaughn. The label's new voice soon had her first recording released by MGM on #10701 - "Peace Of Mind" and "I'm Deceiving Myself" that May. The label's initial "push" helps some,but the overall result of the recording is minimal. Late in the year MGM tries again with #10866 - a version of Hank Williams' country hit "If You've Got The Money Honey (I've Got The Time)" and "Walking With The Blues" backed up by the Luther Henderson Orchestra. Again, there is little positive public reaction to the release and Shaw's days at MGM are numbered.

The highlight of the next few months for Joan Shaw is a weeklong appearance at that citadel of Black entertainment in America, New York City's Apollo Theater in Harlem. She is signed on for a recording date for New Jersey's independent label Regal Records. In late May Shaw records with the Billy Ford Orchestra for Regal #3326 on "Pretty Eyed Baby" and "Marcheta". A short time later Shaw gets into the R & B side of things in a big way by touring throughout the Midwest and Southwest with The Five Keys and the Billy Ford Orchestra.In October of 1951 Shaw finds herself with a recording date for Peter Dorain's Abbey label and the result is #3030 - "Lonesome For My Baby" and "Rock My Soul", once again with the Billy Ford Orchestra.

In early 1952 Joan Shaw realizes that what she had been doing was not quite working out to her expectations, and so she makes the decision to move in a new direction. With the help of Billy Ford she forms her own backup combo to be called the Blues Express. The new act goes out on the road and gains experience and soon begins to gain a reputation as a solid R & B attraction. This helps in getting a chance to record for Coral Records, a subsidiary label of Decca Records. Joan and the Blues Express now make appearances at some of the top R & B venues in the country such as New York's Savoy Ballroom, Cleveland's Ebony Room, and Kansas City's Black Orchid Club. Coral #65095 is issued pairing "Troubles" and "I'd Better Be On My Way". While on a tour of the South and into Florida, Shaw is hospitalized and old friend Billy Ford takes over the band and continues the string of one nighters across the South. In October Shaw is back on the road with the Blues Express and is part of the traveling "Number One Blues and Jazz Show" along with Arthur Prysock, Varetta Dillard, Peppermint Harris, and others. About this time Coral releases #65099 - "Anything You Say" and "Until You Came Along". The year ends with Shaw again being hospitalized after canceling tour dates for the rest of the year.

In February of 1953 Joan Shaw is recovered and hits the road again with the Blues Express touring the South for a number of one nighters. By April minimal record sales have the group leaving Coral Records and getting a shot with Discovery Records. Almost immediately the label closes down, but an offshoot of Discovery, Gem Records plans to record Shaw. In mid spring the first side for Gem is released - #205 - "You Drive Me Crazy" and "Why Don't You Leave My Heart Alone". As she continues to do in person dates during the year, there are two further record releases by Gem. "Oh How I Hate To Say Goodbye" and "Come On" on #209 in August, and "You Make Me Cry Myself To Sleep" and "What Do You Want With Me?" on #212 in October. Shaw has now altered her style a bit and features a more jazz oriented approach to her vocals.

In 1954 Shaw continues to find better success as a live performer than on record. She has an interesting television date in Bermuda on the Don Hanna music show there. She is featured with young tenor sax man Curtis Ousley (soon to become King Curtis)and is well received. She has club dates booked on the island for the better part of the summer months. Now recording for the George Bennet's Jaguar label, Joan does "Most Of All (Joe Loves Me)" and the sultry "I Want A Man For Christmas" on #3010. In April of 1955 Jaguar #1032 is released pairing "I Shouldn't Be Alone So Long" and "The Ten Commandments Of Love". Jaguar Records plans to record an album of blues and jazz tunes featuring Joan Shaw in August. A further mention of Joan Shaw in the music trade press is during the spring of 1956 when ABC-Paramount announces the signing of Shaw to its label.

In September of 1957 Joan Shaw appears for a week at Chicago's Regal Theater with dj Al Benson. Also on the bill are Amos Milburn, Ivory Joe Hunter, Arthur Prysock, The Spaniels, Sil Austin, and Tiny Topsy. Two m onths later she returns to the Regal and again joins Al Benson with Big Maybelle, The Dells, and Mello Kings. By 1958 Joan Shaw is another of the marginal R & B performers that massive successseemed to bypass as she struggled to make a go of it in the late fifties as the music had shifted emphasis toward America's teenagers. She appeared on a recording for the new independent label U-C Records during the summer of 1958 on #5002 with a vocal group called The Dellos. The songs were "Why Did You Leave Me?" and "Why Does It Have To Be Her?". The last record of the year by Joan Shaw is released on ABC-Paramount on #9970 and featured a cover of Jeanette "Baby" Washington's hit for Neptune Records "The Time". The other side of this release was "I Don't Wanna Cry".

Joan Shaw was another of those musical performers who today remains unknown by the vast majority of rock music fans and quasi-historians. Like so many others, she was part of the scene of the late forties and early fifties, and because of many different factors and events,has never been acknowledged as being just such an integral part of the historical perspective of the music's story.In doing a little part of setting the record straight, we remember her now.

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