Lady Flash

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U.S. vocal duo from Ohio, who mostly backed Barry Manilow, but had own hits as well.
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This vocal trio was originally formed as a nucleus of career backing singers who first met when invited to work with Barry Manilow in the early stages of his career. Comprising Lorraine ‘Reparata’ Mazzola (b. Brooklyn, New York, USA), Debra Byrd (b. Cleveland, Ohio, USA) and Ramona Brooks (b. Akron, Ohio, USA), the three singers brought varied and prolific professional experience to bear on their new vocation. Mazzola had previously sung with the Brooklyn College Chorus and teenage group Reparata And The Dolrons. In the latter guise she scored a surprise UK hit (number 13) in March 1968 with ‘Captain Of Your Ship’, and toured England in the same year. It was while stationed in London she first began to work as a backing singer, before starting a television career upon her return to the USA (as producer to Pat Collins’ news bulletin on CBS). Byrd was the daughter of a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, and had first performed as part of the 50 member Community Voices Of Faith Choir (which she formed) while at high school. She studied music theory at Kent State University before becoming the musical director of the Black Theatre Workshop. After recording with gospel group the Jean Austin Singers she entered the world of secular music as part of Columbia Records’ artists the Interpreters. Brooks, meanwhile, had mainly played the nightclub circuit as a solo singer before she became a part of Lady Flash. Manilow brought the trio together just as he was about to launch the tour that would break him in the US. He first contacted Mazzola, who quit her television job to give singing another go, but his suggestion to put the Delrons back together was declined by her erstwhile partners. So auditions brought together Byrd and Brooks to cement the trio. They began rehearsing immediately, taking the name Flashy Ladies. The three vocalists, resplendent in black glitter, became intrinsic to Manilow’s subsequent breakthrough, as he promoted the release of ‘Mandy’ with a nationwide tour. By 1976 Brooks had returned to her solo career, and was replaced by Monica Burruss. The revamped trio continued with Manilow, singing on his second major hit, ‘Could It Be Magic’, the first of nine collaborations which made the charts (both ‘I Write The Songs’ and ‘Looks Like We Made It’ became US number 1’s). Manilow had already shown his willingness to repay his debt to the trio, and arranged a recording contract with Polydor Records for them. The resulting album spanned several genres with a mix of originals and standards. It housed one notable single, ‘Street Singin’’, a tribute to the early vocal groups, which reached number 27 in the Billboard charts in 1976. Afterwards they returned to working with Manilow, until Burruss left in 1977 to be replaced by Muffy Hendricks. By the following year Lady Flash had ground to a halt with Manilow touring much less frequently. Mazzola went on to start an acting career, appearing in the movie Dark Before Dawn, before writing a bestselling book, Mafia Kingpin. Byrd stayed as a back-up singer, working with the Eurythmics and Bob Dylan. Burruss did likewise, with Melanie, Joan Baez and many others, becoming the first female vocalist to win the Star Search television programme.