Born on June 21, 1946 in Atascadero, CA; married, 1968; children: three daughters. Addresses: Record company--Fantasy Records, Tenth and Parker, Berkeley, CA 94710, website: Booking: De La Font Agency, website:

Sixties R&B diva Brenda Holloway is "the most beautiful woman ever signed to Motown," according to author George Nelson, who wrote Holloway's biography on the Fantasy Jazz website. Signed in 1964, during the label's heyday, Holloway recorded suc h Motown hits as "Every Little Bit Hurts," "I'll Always Love You," "When I'm Gone," "Operator," and "Just Look What You've Done." This was all before 1968, when she quit show business for the next 20 years to raise her family.

Born in Atascadero, California, in 1946 and raised in Los Angeles, Holloway had musical talent even as a child. She played violin and sang in the church choir in her Watts neighborhood. "We were very, very poor, but my mother always had a home," Hol loway remembered in her Fantasy Jazz biography. She even sang for a while during junior high school with a vocal group that later became the Whispers. Her first recorded performance was at age 14, when she sang backup for her younger sister, Patrice, then 12, who cut a single called "Do the Del Viking" for a local independent record label. The two sisters dabbled in recording and became popular session singers around Los Angeles for Johnny Rivers and Tina Turner, among others.

Holloway was just 18 when she got her big break. In 1964, she sang a version of Mary Wells's Motown hit "My Guy" at a Los Angeles disc jockey convention. Motown scout Hal Davis spotted her and immediately introduced her to the label's founder, legen dary producer Berry Gordy, who was so taken with Holloway's vocal skills that he wasted no time in signing her to Tamla, a Motown imprint. The singer's beauty only helped her cause.

Holloway's first year with the label passed with little fanfare, but that changed when she got an offer from legendary American Bandstand host Dick Clark for Holloway to appear on his TV show Caravan of Sta rs. Clark's shows had the power to transform mid-level performers into stars, and Holloway's blues-styled ballad "Every Little Bit Hurts" became a smash hit.

She became a rising star very quickly; when Motown tried to get the Supremes a spot on Caravan of Stars, they were turned down. The Supremes weren't big enough; the show's producers were only interested in Holloway. "Every Little Bit Hurts" was her biggest single; the song peaked at number 12 on the Billboard pop chart. In 1965, the newly arrived Beatles chose Holloway as their opening act.

Before long, she traveled to Detroit, her label's hometown, to record, but there things began to sour: She felt like an outsider; she wasn't getting the best material, she was impatient, and stardom wasn't coming fast enough. Still, she worked with the label's best producers, including Smokey Robinson, with whom she recorded two successive hits, "When I'm Gone" and "Operator." Gordy himself also tutored her personally, preparing her to take the stage in Las Vegas.

But Holloway's sales decreased with each record. She began to hone her songwriting skills, and formed a writing partnership with sister Patrice and Frank Wilson, a Motown staff producer. The trio produced Holloway's 1968 release, "You've Made Me So Very Happy," which Gordy himself produced. The song did not become a hit until 1969, however, when it was covered by the white jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears.

The pressures of the music industry began to take its toll on the young singer. Her label mate, Tammi Terrell, had recently died. Drug use was becoming rampant, leading to the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Holloway made a life-changing de cision: just 22, she called it quits. Some sources, who blame business differences with Gordy for her decision, report that her Motown contract had been terminated.

Holloway's life took a hairpin turn after her abrupt exit from show business. She married a minister and had three daughters. She immersed herself in the church, and sang only gospel, believing anything else would be in conflict with her religious b eliefs. "I stayed in church for 18 years," Holloway is quoted as saying online at Fantasy Jazz. "Had I really known God, I would never have stopped singing. I would have pursued my gift. I was so afraid I was going to sin that I didn't do anything. " Her 20-year absence from recording was broken only once, when she released a gospel album, Brand New, for Birthright Records in 1980.

Long a favored star of England's Northern Soul scene, Holloway returned to the music business in 1987, recording with British producer Ian Levine. The songs she chose followed the Motown formula closely. She returned to the stage in 1995, and became popular performing in California at Mexican-American low-rider car meets, rallies, and conventions. It was at one of these shows that she got her second real break, meeting producer-songwriter Fred Pittman, who signed her to Fantasy Records, a jazz label located in Berkeley, California, where she recorded 1999's It's a Woman's World.

Aside from the gospel release, It's a Woman's World was Holloway's first album of original material in 33 years. Pittman and his producer-songwriter partner, Preston Glass, erased all traces of the Motown sound from Hollow ay's return release, and built the album on more contemporary sounds. "That's a shame," wrote Detroit Free Press critic Terry Lawson in a review located on the newspaper's website. The album "could have stood fewer programmed be ats and more naturally created grooves." Holloway herself admits there's a difference in her sound, and she embraces it. "I'm not going to sing like the old Brenda Holloway to keep an image," she is quoted as saying on the Richard De La Font Agency websit e. "It's not the brand-new Brenda Holloway. It's not the revised Brenda Holloway. It's not the old-school Brenda Holloway. It's the real me."

by Brenna Sanchez

Brenda Holloway's Career

Recorded with local Los Angeles record labels, 1960-64; signed to Motown imprint Tamla, 1964; released hit single, "Every Little Bit Hurts," 1964; chosen to perform with the Beatles on U.S. tour, 1965; released gospel album, Brand New, 1980; recorded in England, 1987; returned to the stage, 1995; released original album It's a Woman's World, 1999.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

I grew up in Watts and lived on the same street that Brenda did (Bandera Ave), I used to walk by purposely every day hoping to hear her sing and play the piano. She went to the same high school as my cousin and they talked briefly from day-to-day. I hope all is well with her and her family, God Bless.