The Stovall Sisters – Hang On In There
The Stovall Sisters may have come from a strong gospel upbringing, but this thumpin’ delivery is a hymn praising winged angels with halos of fiery funk!
Born in Kentucky and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, sisters Nettie, Lillian, and Rejoyce, were three of ten children of James and Della Stovall. Their mother was keen to lay down a musical path for her children, by kick-starting their singing voices from around the age of two, and as they grew up, they would tour the roads of the Midwest and South with the family gospel groups.
The first family group was known as the Four Loving Sisters (the name was later changed to the Valley Wonders) and consisted of the four eldest sisters, Billie, Dorothy, Frances, and Georgia. Prior to joining the Valley Wonders, Wayne, Nettie, Lillian, and Joyce performed in a separate family act known as God’s Little Wonders for as long as their childhood held out. When they grew too big to persist as ‘Little Wonders they inherited the mantle of the Valley Wonders from the four older sisters whose careers had succumbed to marriages. Della managed and negotiated recording contracts for them, who also recorded as The Stovall Family (accompanied by two brothers).
In 1964 the family moved to Oakland where the already seasoned performers finished high school and began worrying about economic survival. They continued to sing in church but the Stovall sisters had to support themselves with weekday jobs. During this period they broadened their repertoire to include rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues which gained them entrance to Oakland area night clubs, sometimes under the name of Sister Three.
In 1968 the three girls decided to go for it, a full time professional rock n’ roll career. Their initial step in this direction was naive but direct. According to Lillian “We put an ad in the Oakland Tribune – Three black girls looking for a Caucasian band to sing with”. The only serious response was from a man named William Tuckway. “He came right in and sat on the floor like we’d be knowing him for years”. Tuckway would soon co-produced their debut album on Reprise along with Erik Jacobsen.
Joyce was the predominant lead singer on the Stovall Sisters first album, a new role pushed into her by Jacobsen. The sisters were far more comfortable being background performers – piano, bongos, tambourine and of course backing vocals. The brothers for a long time had taken on the lead duties. But when you hear these recordings, it is obvious these three tight and solid ladies had nothing to worry about when it came to fronting this show.
Hang On In There is the funk standout on their sole Warner/Reprise gospel/R&B crossover album and I’m so damn thankful that it was issued on a beautiful and loud 45. It looks like it was only released as a promo two same-sided track, in mono and stereo. It’s a big groove song…and a wildly uptempo-ed journey! The band is hot, tight and super sharp…going from album credits-Bass: Doug Killmer, Drums: Bill Meeker, Guitar: Dennis Geyer and on Horns: Ron Stallings, John Wilmeth, Hart McNee, David Ginsburg and Neil Kantor. Too good not to share and deserves far more attention than it gets!
The three sisters maintained a successful career as studio professionals and touring backup singers for an impressive list of well-known artists that include The Staple Singers, Bobby Womack, Ray Charles & The Blind Boys, BB King, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Joe Tex, Parliament-Funkadelic and briefly performed as the Ikettes with Ike & Tina Turner, 1967.
The Stovall Sisters would go on to record unreleased tracks for an album with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey and Maurice White but would disband before its release. The Stovall Sisters currently reside in Oakland, Calif.
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