Sarah McLawler ©1999JCMarion


During the Summer of 1950, Chicago independent label Premium signed vocalist-organist Sarah McLawler. She was born in Louisville and grew up in Chicago. She studied keyboards and music theory at Fisk University, and soon began working clubs in the Chicago area in the late 1940s. She headed an all female combo which included McLawler on piano, Lula Roberts on sax, Vi Wilson on bass, and Hetty Roberts on drums. Her first release for Premium in the Summer of 1950 was #857 - "My Whole Life Through" and "Your Key Won't Fit My Door".

In October of 1951, A & R man Henry Glover signs Sarah McLawler to King Records in Cincinnati. In December Chess Records purchases six masters from Premium Records in Chicago featuring McLawler. In January of 1952 King records releases #4495 - "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "I Gotta Have You". Soon after Sarah disbanded her combo and went out as a single artist and landed a spot as a vocalist with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra, After a short stint with Millinder, McLawler reforms an all female combo. McLawler's instrumental group, the Syncoettes are featured on the record and spend some time as the house band at Chicago's Club Savoy. The next King release is #4513 - "I Need You Now" and "Love Sweet Love". In late August Sarah is a good draw for personal appearances at the Cotton Club, Cinncinati's top R & B nightclub. King's next offering is #4561 out in September pairing "Romance In The Dark" and "I'm Just Another One In Love With You".

In mid 1953, Sarah leaves King Records and is signed to Brunswick. She is joined by her childhood friend Gayle Brown for the Brunswick release "Gone Are The Days". In June, Sarah and her trio are on stage for a week at New York's Apollo Theater. In May Brunswick releases #84009 - "I'm Tired Of Crying Over You" and "Foolin' Myself". This is followed the next month by #84014 - "Let's Get The Party Rockin'" and "Blue Room" recorded with Georgie Auld and his band. In early July Sarah plays a week at Washington D.C.'s Howard Theater. Not much is heard from McLawler until the following April when she begins a long association with violinist Richard Otto. Brunswick #84026 contains "Somehow" and "You're Gone". Other records for Brunswick include "Body And Soul" and "Yesterday". The Capitol Lounge is the last remaining R & B room in the Chicago Loop. In May of 1954 that room calls it a day and Sarah has the distinction of being the last musical attraction to perform at that room. In October Sarah plays a number of club dates in New York's Harlem.

From that time on for a number of years, Sarah was part of a unique trio of organ, violin, and drums. The violinist was Otto whom she eventually married, and the drummer was Tommy Hunter. They recorded a number of singles including "Relax Miss Frisky", "Flamingo", "Canadian Sunset", and "At The Break Of Day", and albums for the Vee-Jay label, the most successful being the "We Give You Love". A followup LP was recorded under the title "We Give You Swing". The McLawler - Otto trio closed out 1959 with a tour through the Midwest with Ray Charles ending up with a holiday week at Chicago's Regal Theater. A single on the Oldies 45 label survives from that era. It is #88 : "Babe In The Woods" which was originally on Vee-Jay. Many years later in the mid 70s, I met Sarah who was playing a ski lodge in Vermont (quite a departure from the venues of the 50s !) and she was truly amazed that anyone remembered her records with Richard Otto now that she was a typically jump-rock-jazz organ trio (a la Dorothy Donegan, Shirley Scott, etc.). She remained a wonderful performer, and a part of the R & B legacy that started it all.

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