Introduction to one of the most underrated singers
Maxine Brown is an American R&B, soul and gospel songstress from the 60s music era. She is considered one of the most underrated singers of the genre. She has never reached the Billboard Top 10; her highest charting single was 1960’s “All In My Mind” (#19 on the pop charts). Born in Kingstree, South Carolina in 1939, she began her singing career when she was younger, mostly performing for gospel groups. Brown achieved her first national hit, “All In My Mind” in 1960, followed by “Funny” in 1961.
She was then signed to ABC-Paramount in 1962, poised to become a singing sensation, but she left after an unsuccessful stint there. Moving from the bigger record label, Brown joined Scepter Records’ arm Wand Records. From then, Brown achieved more Hot 100 hits like “Oh No, Not My Baby.” Brown also did a duet with Chuck Jackson in “Something You Got,” which became a top 10 R&B hit. Despite her seeming lack of exposure, Brown is still regarded as one of the greatest and most versatile R&B/soul/jazz/gospel singers especially during her time, not definitely only by oldies music fans.
Considered to be one of the most under-appreciated soul and R&B singers of the 20th century, Maxine Ella Brown was born in Kingstree, South Carolina on August 18, 1939. She first lent her amazing vocal talents when she was in her teens. She performed with a couple of gospel groups, the Angelairs and the Royaltones, both of whom were based in New York.
Successes with Nomar record label
In 1960, Brown signed her first recording contract with a small independent label Nomar, who released her first single “All in My Mind” late in that year. The single, co-written by Brown, Leroy Kirkland and Fred Johnson, reached #19 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #2 on the R&B singles chart.
The success of “All in My Mind” was quickly followed by “Funny” which first appeared on Billboard in March 1961. It became an even bigger hit on the R&B chart at #3, and it also peaked at #25 on the pop singles chart.
Unfruitful stint at ABC-Paramount
When she felt that she was certainly going to “make it big” in only a matter of time, Brown moved to a major label ABC-Paramount in 1962. But her singles there — “After All We’ve Been Through,” “I Got a Funny Kind of Feeling” and “My Time for Crying” — were only very minor hits. She left the label a year later.
Sizable hits on Wand label
From a big label, in 1963, Brown moved to a comparatively smaller imprint Wand, a subsidiary of Scepter Records which specialized on mostly uptown soul.
It was at the New York-based Wand label where she did some of her best records. Compared to her stint at ABC-Paramount, Brown released songs on Wand that definitely did much better on the singles rankings.
Among her charting Wand singles between the years 1963-1969 include “Ask Me” (#75 pop), “Coming Back to You” (#99 pop, #34 R&B), “Oh No, Not My Baby” (#24 pop, #2 R&B; it was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King), “It’s Gonna Be Alright” (#56 pop, #26 R&B; also written by Goffin-King), “One Step at a Time” (#55 pop), “If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody” (#63 pop) and many others.
Brown also collaborated in duets, most especially with Chuck Jackson in their version of Alvin Robinson’s “Something You Got” which became a Top 10 R&B hit. But it seems she wasn’t that fortunate in getting the exposure that she really deserved, as Wand was preoccupied in its focus towards a bigger star in the person of Dionne Warwick.
In 1969, Brown left Wand and moved to another label Commonwealth United, where she scored more minor hits such as “We’ll Cry Together” (#73 pop, #15 R&B) and 1970’s “I Can’t Get Along With You” which was to be her last charting song. Next she moved to Avco Records, but her records there had very little commercial impact.
Although she hasn’t been releasing records any longer (yet), Brown is still performing live up to the present.
Fun Facts about Maxine Brown
1. She started singing as a child
Maxine Brown was born in South Carolina and first started singing during the long, balmy days of summer with her sister and an upstairs neighbor. She had another sister who wasn’t interested in singing, so the two Brown girls sought a couple of other neighbors. Before long, they formed a quartet performing gospel standards in the local area churches as the Angeleers.
2. When they moved when she was a teen, she still belonged to a gospel group
Due to her father’s violent tendencies, her mother took her and her sisters away from home and fled to New York, where they settled. Sadly, her mother died at the young age of 34, but she stayed in Queens, New York, to continue her studies. There, she continued singing. The church influences solidified in her when she was asked to join another gospel group called The Royaltones, which led her to move to Brooklyn. The Royaltones spent the late 50s performing their gospel repertoire.
Later on, she became the only girl singer of the group The Manhattans, a quartet singing secular music with fellow singer and friend Fred Johnson. When one of the men was called upon the military draft, the group became a trio called the Treys.
3. Singing also led Brown to meet her husband
While working as a medical stenographer at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, Brown was invited to sing at a club on Linden Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens. It was here where she met her future husband, Mal Williams. Williams was a budding booking agent and aspiring record producer who had just resigned as manager of Inez and Charlie Foxx. As a result, he had an empty pre-booked session in a studio, which he offered to Maxine. The song she sampled was “All in My Mind,” a sultry, bluesy ballad with a gospel edge that, when coupled with her raw natural talent, made her a talent to be reckoned with.
4. Her first demo became a hit
In 1960, she signed with Nomar records, who released “All My Mind” late in the year. The single became a hit and climbed into #19 Pop and #2 R&B. It was quickly followed by “Funny,” which peaked at #3.
5. She flopped into a big record label
The success of her singles got her a signing to ABC-Paramount, where she recorded around eight unsuccessful singles. However, it’s not because of her performance – it’s mainly because payola DJs were boycotting the label as ABC won’t play ball. She left the label a year later.
6. Dionne Warwick overshadowed her
At Wand, she recorded some of her best work, as she had a string of moderate hits for the label over the next three years. It included “Oh No Not My Baby” (#24 on the pop charts) in 1964 and “It’s Gonna Be Alright (#26 on the R&B charts) in 1965. She also recorded duets with label-mate Chuck Jackson, including a reworked version of Alvin Robinson’s “Something You Got” (#10 on the R&B Chart), “Hold On I’m Coming,” and “Daddy’s Home.” Part of the reason why she didn’t receive much exposure is that the label focused much of its attention on Dionne Warwick, leaving Brown to work in semi-obscurity.
7. She had Elvis Presley’s backup singers and a Motown songwriting hit-makers as her backing vocals
All of the backing vocals for Maxine Brown’s records were performed by Cissy Houston and Sweet Inspirations, which was the same group that backed Elvis Presley. Emerging songwriter-producers Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson also backed her. Ashford and Simpson went on to become hit-makers behind the elegant and soulful classics for Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, and Chaka Khan.
Though she never had many hits, Maxine Brown was one of the most underrated R&B and soul vocalists of the ’60s. Her perceived lack of visibility and exposure hindered her genuine singing talent; nevertheless, Maxine Brown is still regarded as one of the finest R&B, soul, and gospel singers, especially during her time, capable of delivering jazz, soul, and pop with equal aplomb.