IN MEMORY OF GLORIA ANN TAYLOR

January 8, 2018

She was born in West Virginia, and moved to Toledo, Ohio at the age of two with her mother and siblings. As a child, she had rheumatic fever, and was not expected to live to adulthood. She studied at Feilbach School for Crippled Children and Woodward High School. After her mother died when Gloria was in her teens, she began singing in clubs in Toledo in the early 1960s, to make money to support her own young children. While performing at the Green Light club, she was discovered by Walter Whisenhunt, who had worked as a promoter and production manager with James Brown and been involved in making Doris Troy's hit "Just One Look".

 

Whisenhunt became her manager and record producer, and the pair soon married. Taylor's brother Leonard was a songwriter and musician who also assisted with the arrangements and production. Her first records (as Gloria Taylor) were issued on the King Soul label in Detroit, before she had her first and biggest chart success with "You Got to Pay the Price", released on Shelby Singleton's Silver Fox label. The record reached #9 on the Billboard R&B chart and #49 on the pop chart in late 1969, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Other nominees included Ruth Brown, Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick with the award going to Aretha Franklin. The follow-up, "Grounded", reached #43 on the R&B chart the following year. 

 

Taylor and Whisenhunt moved to California, and recorded for Columbia Records. Taylor had her third chart hit in 1974 with "Deep Inside You", which reached #96 on the R&B chart. However, later in the 1970s Whisenhunt terminated Taylor's links with Columbia on the grounds that they were not releasing enough of her records, a decision that Taylor later regretted, saying "The worst thing he could have done was take me off CBS". She signed for Mercury Records, before Whisenhunt started his own label, Selector Sound, on which Taylor's recordings (on which she was credited as Gloria Ann Taylor) were issued.[4]These included "Love Is A Hurtin' Thing" and a funk version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene".

Taylor's records were later characterized as "a unique musical brew that mixed northern soul with exotic percussion and fuzzy psychedelic guitars.... in a range of tempos and stylings from ballads to disco." Another critic said that "Whisenhunt challenged Taylor with adventurous song choices. He was a daring innovator, spiking his opulent productions with grimy, psychedelic guitars; meticulously layering harmonies, strings, and vocal harmonies for a singular wall-of-sound approach; leaving in rhythmic clashes and stray tape noise to seemingly heighten drama; and boldly experimenting with vocal effects." However, the records were not successful at the time, and by 1977 Taylor's career had stalled, and the couple's marriage failed. 

Taylor returned to Toledo to raise her children, found other work, and sang only in her church, never recording or performing professionally again. However, over the years some of her recordings became highly sought after by collectors of rare groove soul and funk music. In 2015, after several years of negotiations, Ubiquity Records reissued many of her recordings on CD and vinyl as Love Is A Hurtin' Thing, and Taylor announced her intention to return to performing. 

 

Gloria Ann Taylor, a Grammy nominee whose soul records from the 1960s and 1970s are prized by music followers of the era, but who focused afterward on singing in church, died Dec. 8 at her South Toledo residence. She was 73.

The cause of death was not known, her sister Doris Williams Johnson said. Ms. Taylor's daughter, Laretta Martin, 56, died Nov. 7.

Ms. Taylor was a featured soloist the past 18 years at River of Life Church on Upton Avenue, founded by a nephew, Bishop John Williams.

 

Her voice was melodic, and she could sing out as the material required, said nephew Mark Williams, minister of music at River of Life Church. "There was none like her voice," Mr. Williams said.

 

In March of 1970, Ms. Taylor was nominated for the 12th Annual Grammy Awards in the category of Best R&B vocal performance by a female for the song, "You Gotta Pay the Price." Other nominees included Ruth Brown, Tina Turner and Dionne Warwick with the award going to Aretha Franklin.

In 2015, the label Ubiquity reissued Ms. Taylor's album of the early 1970s, Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing, produced by her late husband, Walter Whisenhunt, who was a promoter for James Brown. A review on the NPR news program All Things Considered said that the title tune, "with its steady thump, dramatic strings, and Taylor's piercing vocals ... became embraced as a proto-disco classic."

 

Her sister said: "Her voice was one of the most anointed voices. It was so magnificent. She touched so many people singing R&B and gospel."

 

She was born Sept. 13, 1944, in Dehue, W.Va., to Ruby and George Taylor.

 

She was 2 years old when the family moved to Toledo. She had rheumatic fever, Ms. Taylor told The Blade in 2014, and a doctor said she'd only live until she was 16. For several years, she was a student at Feilbach School for Crippled Children. She later attended Woodward High School.

She went to Bethel Chapel with her mother.

 

"My mother was a great singer and I took a whole lot from her," Ms. Taylor told The Blade. Ms. Taylor in her youth sang and toured with the Emerald Gospel Singers and the Gospel Chordettes.

"She could touch you, your soul, your spirit," her brother Leonard Taylor said. "She had us crying."

While touring, Ms. Taylor encountered such gospel-music luminaries as Shirley Caesar and the Staple Singers.

 

Ms. Taylor as a young mother with bills to pay began to perform on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in the early 1960s at a Toledo club, the Green Light, which is where Mr. Whisenhunt found her. She soon was performing and recording in Detroit.

 

She performed on occasion with James Brown's band, her brother said, and he was there for Ms. Taylor and Mr. Whisenhunt, "whenever we needed something," Ms. Taylor told The Blade. "That was a good man. James Brown was one of the nicest men I knew in the music business."

 

She and her husband moved to California, and she continued to record - including a version of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" - and to tour. She traced the decline in her commercial career to her husband's decision that she leave her record label, CBS.

 

She eventually returned to Toledo and never sang outside the church again.

 

"I still sing and people say, 'Girl, come on and record something!'" Ms. Taylor told The Blade in 2014. "But I put my heart and soul in that music. My children, my husband, my sisters, I was doing it for them too and for The Lord.

 

"I want to do what the Lord wants me to do because it seems like whenever I do what I want to, it works and then it doesn't," she said in 2014. "He let me live to be this old. Man, here I am 70 years old! That's a blessing so I just go with the flow."

 

Survivors include her sons, Glenn and Edward Taylor and Walter Whisenhunt; sisters, Doris Williams Johnson and Daisy Birchfield; brothers, George and Leonard Taylor, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

This is a news story by Mark Zaborney. Contact him at:mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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