Short career summary
Little Eva was an American pop singer known for her song “The Loco-Motion.” When she was in her teens she worked as a baby-sitter for songwriters Carole King and Gerry Goffin. The couple were amused and delighted by Boyd’s unique dance steps so they were inspired to write “The Loco-Motion” for her. The song made the top of the Billboard charts in 1962. After the song’s success Little Eva (since then called) was (undeservedly) pigeonholed as craze-dance pop artist. Her next records never saw the commercial impact as “Loco-Motion” did. Little Eva shunned from the limelight in 1971 until about 17 years later when she returned to live performing. She also occasionally released records. Little Eva succumbed to cervical cancer in 2003, aged 59.
Eva Boyd’s early life: working for Goffin-King and early career
Little Eva was born Eva Narcissus Boyd in Belhaven, North Carolina on June 29, 1943. As she grew up she and her family moved to New York, finally settling in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach section. Even in her teens she already had begun working as a baby sitter for the then-married couple Gerry Goffin and Carole King, who were both songwriters at the famed Brill Building.
It is often known that the couple was amused by Boyd’s funny and unique dance steps, so Goffin and King decided to write a song for her, titled the “The Loco-Motion,” and then had her record the song as a demo. The record was originally intended for another singer Dee Dee Sharp, but King and Goffin knew from the start that Boyd also had the pipes aside from having the unique dance moves. Moreover, Dimension Records’ producer Don Kirshner was impressed by Boyd’s singing on the demo record so she was finally chosen as the artist behind “The Loco-Motion.”
Little Eva’s biggest hit “The Loco-Motion”
She was given the stage name “Little Eva,” which some claimed was based on a character from the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. However, Little Eva said herself that she was named after her aunt, which made the whole family to call her as such.
“The Loco-Motion” was released as a single, and it became an instant huge hit. It topped both the pop and R&B singles charts, and #2 on the British charts in 1962. It has become a pop classic since.
Other charting singles
However, the huge success of the single had somewhat an adverse effect on Boyd’s showbiz career. She began to be pigeonoled as a dance-craze singer and so her material given to her was only few and far between. Producers and record-buyers failed to realize that Little Eva was so much more than a dance-craze singer that people would otherwise like her to be stereotyped as such.
She released other few singles including “Keep Your Hands Off My Baby” (#12 pop, #6 R&B, #30 UK), “Swinging on a Star” (#38 pop), “Let’s Turkey Trot (#20 pop, #16 R&B, #13 UK) and “Old Smokey Locomotion” (#48 pop), which did decently enough. However, none of them duplicated the success of “The Loco-Motion.” Except for “Swingin’ on a Star,” all of Little Eva’s hits were written by Goffin-King. “Keep Your Hands off My Baby” did almost as well as her debut though, that it was even covered by the Beatles on-stage (it can be heard on theirLive at the BBC recording).
Little Eva’s retirement, return to music and final years
Boyd continued working and touring throughout the 1960s but it was clear that her commercial appeal ebbed after 1964. In 1971 she retired from show business. Sadly, she never owned the rights to her songs; rumor had it that she only received a royalty of $50 for her mega-hit song “The Loco-Motion,” and that amount was actually her weekly salary for working as a nanny for Goffin and King, with only a slight increase. She became further impoverished when she and her young children returned to her hometown in North Carolina.
She returned out of obscurity, in 1988, on the heels of the commercial success brought by Kylie Minogue’s newer version of “The Loco-Motion,” which Boyd herself felt she was never keen about. Since then she had been working and performing mostly for the oldies circuit, while occasionally recording new material. Boyd died in Kinston, Carolina in 2003, from cervical cancer. She was 59 years old.
Little Eva’s biggest hit “The Loco-Motion” was voted by Rolling Stone on its “500 Greatest Songs” list, ranking it at #350.