Betty Harris

The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul

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Dating back to 2000, when they issued the first volume of the New Orleans Funk series, the Soul Jazz label has occasionally directed their spotlight at Crescent City R&B, as heard on later compilations such as Saturday Night Fish Fry and New Orleans Soul. Among the artists whose work they've featured is powerful and poised vocalist Betty Harris, the focus of this set. The Lost Queen of New Orleans Soul gathers most of her A-sides and B-sides from 1965 through 1968, all of which came out on Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn's Sansu label, as well as both sides of a 1969 single released on SSS International. Harris had more commercial success with earlier output on Jubilee -- most notably her version of "Cry to Me," which went to number ten on the Billboard R&B chart and almost trumped Solomon Burke's original. Sansu wasn't widely distributed outside New Orleans, so these singles, recorded with the brilliant Toussaint, didn't stand much of a chance on a national level. Only the grieving ballad "Nearer to You" charted, while the weeping likes of "What a Sad Feeling" and "I'm Evil Tonight" (what a title), along with a clutch of the B-sides, deserve to be known by more than devout soul parishioners. The booklet includes informative liner notes with fresh quotes from Harris. "I got in this business to make money," she frankly admits. Her work didn't make her rich -- she left music shortly after the release of the 1969 7" that forms the beginning and end of this anthology -- but it made her a favorite beloved by some who justifiably consider the Toussaint collaborations as fine as those of Irma Thomas'. The Westside label's expanded 1998 reissue of Soul Perfection is more in depth -- it covers the Jubilee era and contains the Lee Dorsey pairings missing here -- but it went out of print long before the release of this incomplete, if wonderfully presented, anthology.

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