Savannah Churchill: Time Out For Tears / Erma Franklin: Her Name Is Erma

Two more effective but largely overlooked singers, one Aretha Franklin's sister, are remembered in Fresh Sound's forgotten voices series

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Fresh Sound’s excavation effort in their The Best Voices Time Forgot series continues with this double header spanning elements of jazz, old school rhythm and blues, fledgling soul and easy listening.

Of the two, Churchill is the lesser singer in terms of interpretive depth, but that takes nothing away from her ability to “read” a lyric, as she shows on Foolishly Yours: in lesser hands it would come across as the trifle that it is; she makes it into a declaration of intent.

I Almost Lost My Mind has about it a defiance the like of which has down the years been taken up by everyone from Etta James to Amy Whitehouse. Very much to her credit Churchill transcends the slightly schmaltzy arrangement with aplomb.

Aretha was one of Erma Franklin’s younger sisters, which gives a strong idea of Erma’s vocal lineage. Sure enough, there’s soul of the sanctified, Sunday morning prayer-meeting variety in abundance here. Thus, Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye maps out territory similar to that covered by Irma Thomas early in her career. At that stage what both women had in common was an ability to balance commitment and restraint, although when Franklin does let loose there can be no doubting her sincerity.  

Detour Ahead is a model of that restraint, though Franklin’s interpretive depth is not necessarily more exposed purely because of that. Instead, it might be that singing of this calibre in that era was the result of the practice being a part of life, as opposed to the result of “formal” schooling.

As it turned out, neither singer made a name for herself, and as with countless other names the reasons why are less than straightforward. Life itself might be as good an explanation as any.

Discography
(1) Time Out For Tears; Be Anything (But Be Mine); Foolishly Yours; I Promise It Won’t Happen Again; It Is Too Late; I Almost Lost My Mind; Summertime; It’s Too Soon To Know; She’s Only Got Herself To Blame; I Know I’m Good For You; A Little Place In Your Heart; I Want To Be Loved; (2) Hello Again; Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye; What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am?); Don’t Blame Me; Detour Ahead; Time After Time; It’s Over; Never Let Me Go; Each Night I Cry; Saving My Love For You; Pledging My Love; The Man I Love; Don’t Wait Too Long; Never Again (66.19)
(1) Churchill (v). Philadelphia, 1960. (2) Erma Franklin (v). New York City, 1961-1962. Robert Mersey (arr, cond, tks 1-24, 26); Sammy Lowe (arr, cond, tk 25).
Fresh Sound Records FSR V138