Savannah Churchill

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U.S. R&B vocalist who enjoyed hit singles of many stripes during the 1940s and '50s.
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Savannah Churchill (nee Valentine) was born in Colfax, LA, August 21, 1920, but raised in Brooklyn, NY. The Creole beauty with the luxurious pipes enjoyed a happy life before and during her 30 plus years in the music career, but tragedies marred her entry and exit from the music business. She scored a number one hit in 1947 with "I Want to Be Loved (But Only by You)," it stayed on the charts for eight weeks; like most singers from the '40s/early '50s she's a forgotten soul deserving of recognition.

She started singing in 1941 out of necessity, her husband was killed in a car accident and she had two kids to support. It didn't take her long to find work, Churchill was attractive, she possessed a beautiful voice, and could pen the occasional song.

Beacon Records issued two singles by the Louisiana bombshell in 1942, the risque "Fat Meat Is Good Meat" and "Two Faced Man," accompanied by the Jimmy Lytell All Star Seven on both. While the records didn't burn up the charts, they did introduce Churchill to music lovers. Her next stint came with the Benny Carter Orchestra for Capitol Records. Carter wrote Churchill's first hit "Hurry, Hurry," a 1943 release that Capitol followed with "Just a Baby's Prayer at Twilight."

In the '30s and part of the '40s, singers took backseats to the orchestras or bands and often weren't even mentioned on record labels (though Churchill always was). Singers sat decorously off to the side during live performances and only got up when they had to sing; after doing their part, they return to their chair and sat while the band played. A musicians' strike in the '40s changed this, singers were the only performers available, and they took the front stage and never relinquished it again.

A four-year association with Manor Records beginning in 1945 spawned 14 singles. She recorded with Al Killian Orchestra, the Sentimentalists, the Five Kings, Lenny Herman, the Four Tunes, and Ralph Herman. Her early R&B recordings were classified pop, jazz, or blues depending on the arrangement. The Manor sides include "All Alone," "Too Blue to Cry," "I Want to Be Loved," "I Can't Get up the Nerve to Kiss You," "Time out for Tears" "I'll Never Belong to Anyone Else," and "Tell Me So." Her Manor string of releases was interrupted by a Columbia Records' single "The Best of Friends" in 1948; upon which Manor issued two more Churchill singles to empty its vaults.

An active performer, she toured America and got mobbed in some places, a true star of her times. In 1948 she did a music video (or cameo) in the movie Miracle in Harlem with the Lynn Proctor Trio accompanying her on "I Want to Be Loved." She landed an acting/singing part in Souls of Sin, directed by Powell Lindsay and co-starring Jimmy Wright and Billie Allen, the following year.

Arco Records promoted her as "Sex-Sational," and released seven Savannah Churchill singles from 1949 to 1950 recorded with the likes of the Red Norva Quintet, the Four Tunes, and the Striders. Notables include "I'll Never Be Free," "Don't Cry Darling," "Can Anyone Explain," and "Ain'tcha Glad I Love You." A two-record stint on Regal Records produced "Once There Lived a Fool" and "Wedding Bells." She signed with RCA Victor Records in 1952 for five releases, including "It's No Sin," accompanied mostly by the Striders, a four-piece combo that she toured extensively with, going as far as Honolulu, HI, in 1954.

She enjoyed a two-sided hit on Decca Records in 1953 with "Shed a Tear" b/w "Shake a Hand"; the latter became a big hit for Faye Adams. Decca followed with four more Churchill singles, including two with the Ray Charles Singers. Churchill signed with Argo Records around 1956 for a final fling with "There Goes a Fool." Leonard and Phil Chess' original name for Argo Records was Martery, but bandleader Ralph Materie objected, so they changed it to Argo, Savannah's record kicked off the renowned label that later recorded Ahmad Jamal, Etta James, and James Moody.

A drunkard ender her career, the soused guy fell on her from the balcony of the club she was performing at in 1956, causing her to suffer long, debilitating injuries that she succumbed to 18 years later, April 19, 1974.

Her stellar career included hit records, movies, and all the bookings she could handle. She endured the only lady in the station wagon syndrome that forced many female singers from music careers. Benny Carter, Una Mae Carlisle, and various artists' compilations features Churchill's sweet vocalizing. Jamie Records issued Time out for Tears in 1960, a compilation of some of her recordings.