The Women Behind the Independent Record Labels – 1950’s & 1960’s
Back in the early formative years of rock and roll, r&b and soul music, thousands of local and independent record labels would spring up all over the land.
We will probably never really come to know the stories behind those early labels, so obscure, lost to time. The recording industry was a tough business to crack. The never ending search for talent and for songs, the costs of production and the do-or-die requirement to secure distribution channels nationally.
Needless to say it was a man’s world for the most part. The number of female record label owners from the 1950’s and going into the 1960’s is a short list.
Down in Memphis, Tennessee, a sister-brother team would join up in attempt to save brother Jim Stewart’s fledgling Satellite Records out of Brunswick, Tennessee. So Jim and sister Estelle would move their tiny operation about 20 miles southwest to the hopefully more promising confines of Memphis.
Estelle would move up to front Satellite Records, which would also double as a record store (the store was located in what had been a movie theater). Estelle would then obtain recordings that were requested by folks from the surrounding black community (Jim and Estelle wisely situated their operator in a black Memphis neighborhood) and then she would keep on the lookout for talent.
And talent she did find! It was from this neighborhood that future hit song writer David Porter would emerge as would the talent Booker T Washington, both who frequented the Satellite Record Store
Satellite would morph into “Stax” taking the first two letters of Jim and Estelles last names “STewart” and “AXton” and the rest is history. Estelle would create the “Volt” subsidiary label in an effort to encourage radio DJ’s to be listen to records from a different label. The company continued on until 1975.
Estelle Axton Record Labels
Satellite April, 1958
Stax – September, 1961
Volt – November, 1961
Vee-Jay Records was born in 1953 in Gary, Indiana and then located in Chicago by a husband and wife team, Jimmy Bracken and Vivian Carter – a black couple – uncommon in the record label business – unlike the owners of Chess/Checker, Modern/RPM and King/Federal – all white founded and owned. The label located in close proximity to Chess Records in what was known more or less as ‘Record Row’ in downtown Chicago, first residing near the original Chess location in Chicago’s South Side at 4747 South Cottage Grove (Chess was located at 4750) making the two label next door neighbors.
Vivian Carter Record Labels
Vee Jay – July, 1953
Falcon – September, 1957
(The Falcon name was dropped in 1958 to be replaced by Abner due to the existence of another “Falcon”)
Abner – June, 1958
Zellma (or “Zell”) was also a pioneer in a second category of record making: Right from the first she was bound and determined to find, develop, record and promote girl groups! Much like female record label owners, girl groups in 1955 were not found in abundance breaking onto the national record charts, especially the pop charts.
Zellma Sanders Record Labels
J&S – June, 1956
Scatt – 1958
Argyle – 1959
Zell – 1962
Zells/Zell’s – 1962
Sprout – 1964
Out in New Jersey it would be a housewife in pursuit of what could almost be described as a hobby – something to do with newly available found time with children tucked away in school.
Her entry point came via Florence’s daughter, Mary Jane, who would introduce four classmates from Passaic High School who had entered a talent contest at the school performing as “The Poquellos”.
Greenberg’s labels would feature a diverse range of artists and beyond Scepter and Wand would include Mouse and the Traps, Alvin Cash, The Shangr-Las, Goldie and the Gingerbreads, Scott English, Jean Knight, Barbara Lynn. T-Bone Walker, Peggy Scott & Jo Jo Benson, Junior Parker, The Esquires, and many more!
Florence Greenberg Record Labels
Tiara – July, 1955
Scepter – December, 1958
Wand – 1959
Realm – 1959
Marlu – March, 1961
Rockin’ – 1961
Captain – February, 1962
Spokane – August, 1963
Jet Stream – 1964
Toddlin’ Town – September, 1965
Bambo – 1965
Garrison – December, 1966
Lanie – December, 1966
Bunky – July, 1967
Cap City – May, 1968
Sonday – July, 1970
Madtad – February, 1971
Roadshow – 1972
Johnnie Mae Matthews
Johnnie Mae Matthews began her career first as a singer as a member of the Five Dapps in Detroit, Michigan. She collaborated in the early years with keyboard player Joe Hunter, who would go onto become one of Motown Records’ famous “Funk Brothers”.
Johnnie started up her own record company called Northern Recording funding it with $85 borrowed from her husband. She used the label to promote her own singing. During that time Johnnie worked with and helped Berry Gordy, Jr., to get his start and helped him obtain the distribution services of Chess Records promoting a song called “Bad Girl” by an upcoming group called the Miracles.
By 1960 Johnnie was singing solo for her label and released a record backed by a group of musicians called the “Groovers”. The members, Joe Hunter along with Eddie Willis, James Jamerson, Eli Fontaine and Uriel Jones would go on to form the nucleus of the Funk Brothers working for Gordy, Jr.
Johnnie would form several subsidiary labels and she helped launch the career of Barbara Lewis as well as recording a Detroit group The Distants, who would become familiar to the world as The Temptations. Johnnie had continuous offers from Berry Gordy, Jr., to join his stable of singers at Motown but she declined.
After retiring her labels, in the mid 1970’s she would begin supporting a Detroit funk group called Black Nasty which included two of her own children. Black Nasty would evolve into the “ADC Band” which encouraged Johnnie to revive her Northern Recording Company. The group would obtain distribution from Cotillion Records and go on to enjoy a handful of R&B hits in the late 1970’s.
Johnnie Matthews passed away on January 6th, 2002 at the age of 79.
Johnnie Mae Matthews Record Labels & Associations
Brax – 1958
(An early Dapps recording with Johnnie on lead)
Northern – 1959
Northern – March, 1960
(The future Temptations)
Audrey – 1960
Reel – 1961
(Johnnie worked in collaboration often with singer/song writer Timmy Shaw)
Glodis – 1961
Jam – 1966
Big D – 1967
Big Hit – 1969
JoAnne Jackson Bratton
JoAnne Bratton co-owned Golden World Records based out of Detroit, Michigan. Her partner was Ed Wingate who had been approached by Berry Gordy, Jr., of Motown to possibly team up. JoAnne advised Wingate against the partnership due to the dual strong personalities of the two men.
Wingate and Bratton were facing a dilemma. They were not composers as was Berry but they decided to plod ahead and so it 1962 they established Golden World and released their first single in January of that year by Sue Perrin, Golden World 101 “I Wonder” b/w “Put A Ring On My Finger” – They were up and running, but like so many small independents, they needed a hit.
In very short order Bratton and Wingate established the Ric Tic label and they brought on an old timer – Leonard Reed to add composing power and music industry knowledge to their operation. Reed had worked with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong! Reed was joined by another early notable figure, Sammy Lowe who had worked with Sam Cooke, The Platters and Nina Simone to name a few.
“Ric Tic” was a fond nickname for JoAnne’s son Derek Truman Bratton who died in an accident in 1962 at the very young age of 12. Although JoAnne never confirmed it, her new label was almost obviously meant as a memorial to her son.
Golden World plodded along for two years from early 1962 until February 1964 without chart success and then along came an group of youngsters from Detroit who called themselves the Reflections. Their Golden World debut would race into the national Top 10 peaking at number 6. JoAnne and Ed had their hit!
The Reflections would have the distinction of being the only Golden World act to release a long play! The Reflections would place a final song on the Hot 100 – “Poor Man’s Son” number 55 in 1966.
Two of their songs ‘bubbled under’ the Hot 100 “(I’m Just) A Henpecked Guy (number 124) and “Shabby Little Hut” (number 121). The Reflection recordings would be the only Golden World releases to chart. Edwin Starr placed three Ric Tic songs on the Hot 100 and the R&B Charts.
It would take six more months for JoAnne and company to revisit the charts. It would come in the summer of 1965 with 23-year-old Edwin Starr (Charles Edwin Hatcher). “Agent Double O Soul” would reach number 21 on the Hot 100 and go to number 8 R&B. The flip side “Back Street” would also double chart. Starr would follow with a couple of minor hits for Ric Tic but would have to wait for nearly 2 years before successfully resurfacing on Motown’s Gordy label.
Starr passed away in 2003 at age 61 – the victim of a heart attack.
Another Golden World group, The Holidays had one hit on the R&B charts “I’ll Love You Forever” which reached number 7 and number 63 Hot 100. The Holidays were the trio made up of Edwin Starr, J.J. Barnes and Steve Mancha. Barnes (James Jay Barnes) would also place a song on the R&B Charts in early 1966, before Motown took over Ric-Tic – “Real Humdinger” which reached number 18 R&B and number 80 Hot 100. Steve Mancha was born Clyde Darnell Wilson and would later be a member of 100 Proof Aged In Soul a group on the Hot Wax label which was started up in 1969 in Detroit by Motown’s famed Holland-Dozier-Holland composing team. They had become disgruntled with Motown and would move on with this label as well as Invictus and Music Merchant.
In the summer of 1965, Golden World took a shot at replicating Motown’s success with Little Stevie Wonder – A 12-year-old Carl Carton would release his debut single for the label (Carl was already a ‘veteran’ with two releases under his belt on the Lando record label. He was also known as “Little Carl Carlton” and would later enjoy huge success with his 1974 number 6 smash “Everlasting Love.
In a rather strange marriage, a Chicano group out of San Antonio, Texas would come aboard in an attempt to revive their earlier success (“Talk to Me”) from 1963. They had enjoyed a lot of local success in their home state with the release of over 30 singles and several LP’s. The group recorded a couple of tracks but Wingate decided not to release them – based on some sort of superstition he held near.
Many of the Golden World artists and composers would eventually find their way in the Motown Machine. Many of the Motown session men often moonlighted with Golden World and precautions had to be taken to keep this information away from Berry Gordy, Jr. In 1965 the Reflections would return to the well recording a nearly identical copy of “Just Like Romeo and Juliet” – this one titled “Like Columbus Did” which only managed a number 96 showing. Later in their career on ABC Records they would dip into the well one final time with “Just Like Adam and Eve” in the spring of 1966.
You have to give JoAnne and Wingate a lot of credit for giving it the old college try – They commuted for several years to lay down tracks in New York City; they took a shot at having an upscale studio built in Detroit – they restarted their labels after periods of dormancy – but in the end it would be Berry Gordy, Jr., opening up his checkbook in the summer of 1966 to purchase Golden World and it’s assets for around a million bucks.
Ric Tic kept going with Wingate under Motown’s direction for about a year and a-half.
JoAnne Jackson Bratton/Ed Wingate Associated Record Labels
Golden World – January, 1962
Ric Tic – July, 1962
J &W – 1964
Win Gate – July, 1965
Volcano – November, 1965
Maltese – November, 1965
Stephanye – February, 1966
Karen – March, 1966
(This record was cut at Golden Records’ studio – a practice which was fairly common on the part of JoAnne and Ed)
Raynoma (“Ray”) Singleton
Raynoma Singleton was born in March of 1937 in Detroit, Michigan – birth name Raynoma Mayberry. Much like JoAnne Bratton, her path would criss-cross with that of Motown Records and Berry Gordy Jr. Much like Johnnie Mae Matthews, Raynoma was a record label owner but first was a soul singer.
Early in her life she auditioned for Motown along with her sister Alice – the year being 1958. Gordy took her up on her suggestion that she could contribute to his fledgling operation in other ways and her first assignment was to put together a singing group who would come to be known at the Rayber Voices – combining Ray and Berry’s names.
The Ray Bers would serve as a backing group for several of Berry’s early recordings. The Ray Ber Voices included some interesting talent including Robert Batemen who composed “Please Mr. Postman as well as co-writing “Twistin’ Postman” and “Playboy” all by the Marvelettes. Another Ray-Ber was Sonny Sanders, a one-time member of the “Satintones” – a very early Motown group. A third member was the legendary Motown writer Brian Holland.
Ray would be instrumental in encouraging Berry to form his own record label along with Smokey Robinson. She would marry Berry but his infidelities would end the union soon. However, she and Berry worked out a tentative working agreement – with Ray moving operations to New York. She experienced fiscal difficulties and in a not very wise move decided to bootleg 5,000 copies of the Mary Wells Motown hit, “My Guy”.
You would think that Berry would have crushed Ray when he learned of what she did. He was reportedly furious but continued to help support her by lending her and her new husband, Eddie Singleton money to start up a record label. That label would be called Shrine. It would release nearly 20 singles from 1964 into 1966 and then close it’s doors in the city of Washington D.C. Ray would come back to join Motown in 1968.
In spite of all of this – Ray continued to work with Motown and Berry.
Ray Singleton’s Associated Record Labels
HOB – May, 1959
Chant – 1959
Shrine – December, 1964
Ray Singleton passed way in November of 2016 at age 79. Ray contributed to a biography in 1990 titled “Berry, Me and Motown: The Untold Story”.
Vicky Morosan (Colorado’s Own)
Now my favorite female record industry pathfinder – Ms. Vicky Morosan out of Colorado. Vicky, unlike most of the other female pioneers, was a one-woman force – a ‘Jill of all trades’.
This from the Denver Post and family members:
“Her name is Aurelia Victoria, but she did go by Vicky. The family did emigrate to the United States from Transylvania, Romania. However, their Romanian name is Pasca, which means bread in Romanian. The name was inadvertently changed to Paskie by Ellis Island officials as her parents entered the United States. The incorrect spelling remained much to the ire of my Grandmother. My Grandmother, however, refused to ever use the name Paskie. It was a very sore subject with her. We knew not to ever bring up the subject. She would sometimes revisit the topic and I can still hear her today say in her thick Romanian accent that the Romanians are descendants of the Romans and not Slavic, as the name Paskie would imply.”
According to Valerie Vicky was making a journey by train across the U.S. from West Virginia destination Arizona with her daughter who had a health condition. When the mom and daughter stopped in Denver and stepped off the train for a train stop break Vicky looked out at the Rocky Mountains and decided then and there to remain in Colorado which she did up until the time of her death.
Vicky worked tirelessly on behalf of her handful of record labels, primarily Band Box. She worked the studio, did the publicity, made contacts, managed, traveled the U.S. to promote her musicians, worked deals in the South and out east to land recording deals.
Vicky released 100’s of recordings from 1959 into the early 1970’s – with vanity records included – probably more than 500! For all of her tireless efforts, only a few of her recordings would make the national charts – a couple by country singer Van Trevor and one by Penny Starr who would later perform as Penny DeHaven – another country singer.
Vicky Morosan Record Labels
Band Box – 1959
Keyboard – 1962
Valerie – 1962
Band Box Custom – 1963
Spicy – 1968
Band Box Vanity – 1968
(This is an uncle of my wife’s – The family had no idea that Doctor Ginsburg had recorded this long play)
Rustix – 1969
Toll Gate – 1969
Band Box Custom – 1970