R&B soul singer and songwriter Barbara Lewis and her hit “Hello Stranger”

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Barbara Lewis is considered one of the pioneers of R&B due to her smooth style and approach. A talented individual, Lewis began writing songs when she was a kid, and was already recording during her teens under the wings of producer Ollie McLaughlin (who also handled the careers of Del Shannon, The Capitols, and Deon Jackson).

Lewis composed all the tracks for her 1962 debut LP, Hello Stranger which also yielded the title track that became a best-selling hit and now-oldies music classic favorite. After “Hello Stranger”, Lewis released moderate hits until she returned to the charts with the pop-influenced “Baby I’m Yours” and “Make Me Your Baby,” both produced by Bert Berns.

At the end of the 60s music era, Lewis released grittier material under Stax Records, but they went unnoticed. Not long after she retired from the music industry. However, later generation of fans and artists – including Jody Miller, Debby Boone, Suzanne Stevens, and even the Arctic Monkeys — are reviving much of Lewis’ work, in particular “Hello Stranger.”

Early life and career

R&B/soul singer/songwriter Barbara Lewis was born on February 9, 1943 in Salem, Michigan. Lewis entered the recording business in her teens and has worked with producer Ollie McLaughlin who was also in charged in the careers of the Capitols, Deon Jackson Del Shannon and jazz virtuoso Chet Baker. McLaughlin was a radio disc jockey as well.

Lewis’ recording career

Released in 1962, Lewis’ first single “My Heart Went Do Dat Da.” The cheery, upbeat song was a local hit in Detroit, Michigan area but never made he national charts. The follow-up single “Hello Stranger” which featured the use of the Hammond organ was Lewis’ biggest hit. It peaked to #3 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“Hello Stranger” was included in her debut LP, wherein Lewis composed all the songs. After “Hello Stranger”‘s huge success, she released a number of follow-up singles (“Straighten Up Your Heart” and “Puppy Love”) but failed to generate interest among music fans.

Later in 1965, two of Lewis tracks went to the US chart, “Baby I’m Yours” (written by Van McCoy) and “Make Me Your Baby”, both produced by Bert Berns. Lewis moved to another recording company, Stax and released a grittier-driven album. It was barely noticed by the music fans.

Despite the failure of Lewis’ last efforts, a number of acts remade some of her big hits.”Hello Stranger” was covered by The Capitols (1966), Fire & Rain (1973), Yvonne Elliman (1977), Carrie Lucas (1985) and Queen Latifah for her The Dana Owens Album (2004). “Baby I’m Yours” was redone by country singers Jody Miller and Debby Boone. Suzanne Stevens did a disco version of “Make Me Your Baby” which became a hit in 1975.

The British indie rock band Arctic Monkeys also did a remake of “Baby I’m Yours” as a B-Side to their 2006 single, “Leave Before The Lights Come On.”

In 1999, The Rhythm and Blues Foundation gave Barbara Lewis The Pioneer Award for her remarkable contribution. Truly, Barbara Legend is undoubtedly a legend of her own.

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