RIP: Loleatta Holloway

Posted March 22, 2011 by J Matthew Cobb in News

Disco diva is best known for being sampled on a Marky Mark tune, but she’s celebrated and remembered today for her gargantuan gospel-tinged pipes

Loleatta Holloway, one of the mightiest soulful disco divas of the 1970’s, passed away at the age of 64.

Holloway began her musical career filling in the role of Shirley Caesar, who had departed Albertina Walker’s Caravans to pursue a solo career. She recorded with the legendary gospel troupe during the late `60’s and early ’70’s but was quickly discovered by MFSB legend Norman Harris and eventually signed her to his Gold Mine label, a subsidiary for New York’s Salsoul Records. Her departure from gospel, beginning with elegant MFSB-decorated numbers like the sweet ‘n salty “Dreamin'” and the Salsoul Orchestra-anchored “Runaway,” stirred many quarrels within gospel circles, but Holloway stood determined in her ambitions as a R&B singer. She even drew a line on using the name of God in vain on her sweaty funk rumpers (“Good gosh a mighty,” she says on “Hit and Run”). After her debut, disco started to seriously bubble up and her uptempo funk-based content started to increase. Although she recorded ballads throughout her career, fans wanted more of Holloway’s juicy dance grooves.

Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer were the leading ladies of the dancehalls, but Holloway’s unabashed boldness placed her in a class above all the divas. The proof: Her magical snap on “Hit and Run” is the common ground embedded in gospel royalty and sweaty blues. Her voice starts to shrill – amped with high volume with the dexterity of a banshee – when her ad-libs kicks in. The ten-minute remix of “Hit and Run,” designed by legendary mixer Walter Gibbons, became disco royalty and instantly made her a favorite in New York clubs and a flagship act on the small, independently-distributed Salsoul label.

After “Hit and Run” came a series of delicious dance tunes. “Relight My Fire,” usually tagged along with the opening instrumental build-up of “Vertigo,” was a song that was featured on producer/singer Dan Hartman’s Relight My Fire LP. Hartman sings the bulk of the song. But when the surprising vamp enters the picture, Holloway jumps in with her well-trained gospel pipes, maximised with sanctified testifying. When the song starts to fade, Holloway completely takes the song away from Hartman’s grips. The song was epic, reaching No. 1 on the Disco charts for six weeks straight and lit up disco clubs all over. In 1980, Harman returned the collaborative favor for Holloway on her upcoming LP, and produced her super-sized, highly-sampled disco gem “Love Sensation.”

When the 1980’s appeared, disco faded and so did Holloway’s musical career. By the time the 1990’s kicked in, Holloway’s voice was re-discovered by younger generations. Unbeknowest to most music lovers, Holloway’s voice was the heartbeat behind Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch’s “Good Vibrations.” A year prior to that, Black Box used Holloway’s vocal tricks on their dance hit “Ride on Time.” In 2009, “We’re Getting Stronger,” the b-side of “Hit and Run,” got a new lease on life when Alicia Keys used its foundation on Whitney Houston’s single “Million Dollar Bill.” Younger deejays and remix giants added new mixes to “Love Sensation” and pumped renewed interest into her invisible back catalog.

Leading up to her declining health and heart failure, Holloway performed at underground clubs and remained faithful to her hometown of Chicago, IL, the birth place of the House music movement. She even attended the funeral services of Albertina Walker last year and contributed in an impromptu reunion with living members of the Caravans (including Shirley Caesar, Dorothy Norwood and Inez Andrews). After slipping into a coma, Holloway’s big voice was silenced on March 21, 2011.

Many tributes are crowding up the Internet since Holloway’s unfortunate passing (even from gospel bloggers like Bob Marovich), but The Guardian (UK) writes one of the better descriptions detailing the legacy of Holloway’s voice and material.

“Hit and Run” – A Walter Gibbons Mix (1977)
Gold Mine Records

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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