R.B. Greaves – “Take a Letter, Maria”

R.B. Greaves’ short career summary

R. B. Greaves was an American pop and soul singer whose 1969 single “Take A Letter, Maria” became a massive hit. Born Ronald Bertram Aloysius Greaves III in Georgetown, British Guyana (on the US Air Force base), he was the nephew of Sam Cooke. He grew up on an Indian reservation and moved to England in 1963, where he built his career. In 1969 he released a single titled “Take A Letter, Maria” under the name R. B. Greaves; it became a big smash on both the pop and R&B charts. For follow-ups to the success of his first single, Greaves recorded covers such as “(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me” and “Whiter Shade of Pale” but didn’t have the commercial and chart impact as “Take A Letter, Maria ” had. In the 1970s he recorded for Bareback Records and then to Sunflower Records, but these moves failed to revive his career. Greaves died in 2012, aged 68.

Early life and career

R&B and pop singer-songwriter R.B. Greaves’ birth name was Ronald Bertram Aloysius Greaves III. He was born on the US Army Air Forces base in Georgetown, in what was then British Guyana (where his father was stationed) on November 28, 1943.

Greaves had mostly lived a peripatetic life (at least in his early years). After Guyana, he spent his formative years at a Seminole Indian reservation in the United States. Next, he flew to England, United Kingdom in the early 1960s, where he started to build his own career and make a name for himself. He also performed in the islands of Caribbean.

You could say that Greaves’ family and folks had music in their blood. He had a nephew named Sam Cooke, who had become a legend on his own — the “King of Soul.” Cooke, whose hits include “You Send Me,” and “Chain Gang,” died in 1964 by a gunshot wound.

While Greaves was in the United Kingdom, he became the lead singer of Sonny Childe and TNT’s.

R.B. Greaves’ only big hit with “Take a Letter, Maria”

Greaves wrote a song that would give his biggest hit, “Take a Letter, Maria.” It had been previously recorded before by Tom Jones and Stevie Wonder. However, Atlantic Records’ president Ahmet Ertegun urged Greaves to record his own song himself, to which he agreed.

“Take a Letter, Maria” tells a tale of a man who discovers his wife’s infidelity. Because of this he is encouraged to prepare a letter of separation to her. He dictates the letter to his secretary named Maria. There’s a lot going on in this fine song — the soap opera story and the Latin music influences highlighted by trumpets.

Released on Atlantic’s Atco subsidiary in 1969, the song went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, his only top 10 pop hit. It also peaked at #21 on the adult contemporary singles chart, and #10 on the R&B singles chart that same year. The single sold over a million copies and was awarded with a gold disc. It also appeared on R.B. Greaves’ self-titled first (and only) album.

Later life and career

However, this was to be Greaves’ one and only major hit. His subsequent releases such as his cover of Bacharach/David’s “(There’s) Always Something to Remind Me” (#27 pop, #3 adult contemporary, #50 R&B) didn’t quite duplicate his earlier success. He tried further by releasing singles such as cover versions of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” and Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.” He also released his own composition “Margie, Who’s Watching the Baby” (released on Bareback label in 1977) but it did little to revive his career. He later moved to Sunflower Records, but it went for naught.