polydor 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.

Herb Fame

Herb Feemster

(We’ll Be) United – Peaches & Herb

Everybody loves a comeback story. This is how popular soul singer Herb Feemster disappeared from the limelight for seven years and triumphantly returned during the final days of disco.

Herb Feemster joined the navy after high school and took a part-time job at Waxie Maxie’s on 7th and T St. NW following his release. He recorded the song “Rudolph Holiday” as Millie & Billie on one of Waxie Maxie’s two record labels. The single didn’t have any impact but Feemster was successful at attracting the attention of none other than producer Van McCoy, one of many from the music industry who frequented the shop.

In 1966 McCoy introduced Feemster to The Sweethings, a Washington, DC based girl group, and brought them both to New York City to record. Feemster recorded “You’re Messing Up My Mind” and “From The Shadows To The Sun” under the name Herb Fame. At the suggestion of McCoy, Feemster and Sweethings lead singer Francine “Peaches” Barker recorded the pop standard “Let’s Fall In Love” together. Though they had just met, the vocal chemistry between the two was palpable. When the record was released a year later, the world was introduced to Peaches & Herb.

Between 1967 and 1971 Peaches & Herb issued more than a dozen chart-topping singles on Date Records including “Close Your Eyes,” which reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, “For Your Love,” “Love Is Strange,” and “(We’ll Be) United,” and two LPs—“For Your Love” and “Let’s Fall In Love.” They performed across the south and Midwest, at DC’s Howard Theatre and The Cellar Door, and also at the Apollo Theatre for a week.

Judging by their performances and photos Feemster and Barker appeared to be madly in love, but the singer concedes the relationship was purely professional.

“There was no personal thing there,” says Feemster. “We were just two people who wanted to sing.”

Exhaustion from nearly four years of constant recording and touring forced Feemster and Barker to end the act in 1970. He entered the Washington, DC police force, but returned to the music industry in 1977 with a new “Peaches,” Linda Greene. Feemster and Greene recorded seven albums together between 1977 and 1983. It was a new era in music ruled by disco, which Feemster boldly embraced.

“If you’re not confident with anything that you do it will not happen,” he says. “I’ve always been confident in me.”

The duo’s 1978 LP “2 Hot,” produced by Freddie Perren of Motown’s The Corporation, proved that Peaches & Herb was back and more popular than ever. The album’s first single, “Shake Your Groove Thing,” became a disco classic, reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their next song, “Reunited,” went all the way to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts.

“All artists record hoping, praying, and wishing that they could do something that will last, become number one, or get a Grammy,” says Feemster. “To have that number one or that top five is a feeling that you just can’t explain.”

Peaches & Herb recorded several more hits with Perren’s MVP Productions on Polydor Records, including “Roller Skatin’ Mate” and “I Pledge My Love” and performed with Bob Hope and Sammy Davis, Jr., but Feemster grew disenchanted with the music business again and Peaches & Herb ended in 1983. He returned to the work force, this time as a deputized security officer at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Feemster released “Colors of Love,” an album with a sixth “Peaches,” Meritxell Negre in 2009 and currently performs with the latest “Peaches,” Wanda Tolson. Francine “Peaches” Barker sadly passed away in 2005.

You can purchase Peaches & Herb‘s music here.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.
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