dynamite records

Martha High

Martha High, James Brown’s longest running female vocalist, in Annapolis, MD in 2014.

Try Me – Martha High

Martha Harvin had a difficult decision to make. She loved the touring with Mr. Please Please Please, aka James Brown, but the rest of her group, The Jewels, was growing tired of being on the road.

She’d been with The Jewels—Sandra Bears, Grace Ruffin, and Margie Clark—since they began rehearsing together in Bo Diddley’s Road Island Avenue NE basement in Washington, DC. The girl group had several hits and received national attention with their 1964 single “Opportunity,” on Dimension Records. They met Brown after a performance at the Howard Theatre.

The Jewels joined the James Brown Revue in 1966 and traveled with them for a year and a half, recording “This is My Story” and “Papa Left Mama Holding The Bag,” on Federal and Dynamite Records respectively, and background vocals on a few of Mr. Dynamite’s songs such as “Ain’t That A Groove” and “Don’t Be a Dropout.”

“I wasn’t ready to leave yet,” says Harvin of the choice she had to make. “I loved the fact of traveling and being with the biggest singer in the world at that time.”

So Ruffin, Clark, and Bears returned to DC as The Jewels, but Harvin decided to stay on with the Revue. For marketing purposes, Brown suggested Harvin replace her surname with “High.”

High became an integral part of Brown’s repertoire, and remained on the James Brown Revue for more than 30 years, making her The Godfather of Soul’s longest running female vocalist. She sometimes even styled his hair.

High briefly left Brown’s show between 1968 and 1970 and when she returned Lyn Collins had emerged as the Revue’s lead female vocalist. In 1972 High, Collins, and another DC resident, Mercedes “Binky” Arrington, performed as a trio in the Revue, the Soul Twins.

High recorded on many of Brown’s releases, including all the background vocals on the 1973 double LP, “The Payback.” Her voice is particularly recognizable on the album’s titular song. In 1973 High released a cover of Brown’s “Try Me” on People Records with the popular classic, “Georgie Girl,” on the b-side. She also recorded background vocals on Soul Brother Number One’s 1974 LP, “Hell.”

The vocalist from DC began to develop as a lead singer when she performed Collin’s “You Can’t Love Me If You Don’t Respect Me” on episode 13 of Brown’s “Future Shock” TV series. In 1977 High recorded a duet of the George Gershwin classic “Summertime,” with Brown, and in 1978 sang lead on “Georgia Disco” and “Soul of the Disco” as Martha and The Lazers on J.B.’s Internationals “Jam II Disco Fever” LP. Both were released on Polydor Records.

In 1979, High recorded her first LP as a lead singer, a self-titled disco album on SalSoul Records produced by Brown. She released one single from the LP, “Showdown/Ding Dong Man,” the latter being an answer to Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell.” High continued to tour with Brown through 2000.

Shortly after she left the Revue, High began to tour with The J.B.’s indispensable saxophone player, Maceo Parker. In 2008 the vocalist recorded a live album with the French funk band, Shaolin Temple Defenders, and the next year released her second solo album, “It’s High Time.” In 2012 High released her third LP, “Soul Overdue,” with British funk band Speedometer on Freestyle Records. High continues to tour worldwide with Parker.

You can purchase High’s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

The Jewels

The Jewels

Opportunity – The Jewels

From 1959 to 1966 rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley—The Originator—had a house on Rhode Island Avenue NE Washington, DC where several groups rehearsed and recorded. Some of the acts who frequented the house were Marvin Gaye’s group The Marquees, Billy Stewart, Motown’s The Spinners, and The Impalas.

Originally called The Renaults, The Impalas—Sandra Bears, Margie Clark, Grace Ruffin (pictured left to right), and Carrie Mingo—got their start in Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School’s glee club and performed at nursing homes, military hospitals, talent shows, and military bases.

The Impalas were introduced to Diddley through Ruffin’s brother Paul, who was also a musician. They recorded their first record, “I Need You So Much”/”For The Love Of Mike” at the rock and roll legend’s house, which was released on Checker Records. Manager/producer Bob Lee suggested The Impalas change their name to The Four Jewels and their second record, 1962’s “Loaded with Goodies”/”Dapper Dan” on Lee’s Start Records was a local hit.

That same year The Four Jewels traveled to Chicago with Lee to record “Time For Love”/”That’s What They Put Erasers On Pencils For” on Checker Records and sang backing vocals on Ruffin’s cousin Billy Stewart’s “Reap What You Sow.” In 1963 fellow Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School alumnus Martha Harvin replaced Mingo and the next year they dropped “Four” from their name and recorded “Opportunity”/”Gotta Find A Way” on Carole King’s Dimension Records, which reached #64 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Opportunity” led to better gigs and soon The Jewels performed at The Apollo Theater. James Brown, who was in attendance, was impressed by what he saw and asked the quartet if they would join him on tour. The Jewels performed on The Godfather of Soul’s traveling review across the nation at venues as large as Madison Square Garden and recorded the Brown produced “Papa Left Mama Holding The Bag”/”This is My Story” on Dynamite Records and sang background vocals on his single “Don’t Be A Drop-Out” in 1966.

“(Brown) was very demanding but he didn’t ask any more of you then what he gave,” says Bears. “He was the hardest working man in show business. He gave his all. I’ve seen him perform sick to the point when he came of the stage the ambulance was right there to take him to the hospital.”

After a little over a year The Jewels—with the exception of Martha Harvin—decided to return home. The three singers ended up in government jobs—Ruffin worked for The United States Postal Service, Clark worked at the U.S. Department of Interior, and Bears worked at the DC Department of Parks and Recreation. Harvin changed her name to Martha High and stayed on with Brown as a vocalist for more than 30 years.

In 1985 the original Four Jewels re-recorded their singles for their first LP, “Loaded With Goodies.” The Jewels received a Washington Area Music Association Wammies award in 2000 and performed with New Orleans’ The Dixie Cups at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2013.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.
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