Introduction to Shirley Brown
Shirley Brown is an American R&B singer best known for his #1 R&B hit single, “Woman To Woman” in 1974. Her first label was the Illinois-based Abet imprint; she then moved to Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee. There she recorded “Woman To Woman,” which became a big hit in 1974. Her first LP of the same title also did well on both R&B and overall album charts. Brown also recorded under other labels including Arista, Sound Town and Fantasy. Though she may never have surpassed or even duplicated the earlier successes, she remains a popular performer especially in the southern US.
Shirley Brown’s early life and career, and move to the struggling Stax Records
R&B singer Shirley Brown was born in West Memphis, Arkansas on January 6, 1947. She was later raised in Madison, Illinois, where she trained her powerful vocals while singing gospel songs at a local church. Brown was spotted by blues guitarist and singer Albert King, who also became her manager.
When she was in her late teens, she began singing secular material. She moved to East St. Louis, Illinois, where she signed up for the Abet label and cut her first records including “I Ain’t Gonna Tell,” which made quite a sensation regionally. In 1974 Brown moved to Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax Records at the recommendation of her manager King.
Only major hit with “Woman to Woman”
Brown was the one to provide a final hit for Stax before the label collapsed. This very last hit of Stax was also her first national charting single, “Woman to Woman.” It topped the R&B singles chart and also went to the Top 40 pop chart at #22, in November 1974. Her debut LP, also titled Woman to Woman was equally successful, coming in at #11 on the R&B album chart and #98 on the Billboard 200.
Her follow-up single was “It Ain’t No Fun,” whose title seems to be foretelling Stax’s inevitable dissolution because of its financial struggles and existing lawsuits. “It Ain’t No Fun” was only a moderate hit in 1975, the year where Stax also folded for good.
Recording for other labels after Stax
Brown signed up for Arista Records in 1977. She wasn’t quite successful there, as her singles such as “Blessed Is the Woman (With a Man Like Mine),” “Givin’ Up” and “I Can’t Move No Mountains,” as well as her eponymous LP, didn’t do anything to spark up the charts.
She left Arista for 20th Century, but she suffered the same fate over there. After her single “You Got to Like What I Do” didn’t make a dent on the charts, the label dropped her soon after.
In 1984 she moved to Sound Town label where she released an LP Intimate Storm, and a single “Leave the Bridges Standing,” both of which left very little impact. Her unreleased work with Stax was compiled and turned into an album, The Real Feeling. The album’s single “After a Night Like This” was only a minor hit on the R&B chart (#73)
Shirley Brown might be dispirited that she had difficulty getting a big hit, but she still carried on and continued recording. She recorded for more other labels, including Fantasy (which formed from Stax’s ashes), and Mississippi-based blues imprint Malaco Records, where she has been employed since the late 1980s. Despite her utter lack of major chart hits in recent years, she has remained a popular live act especially on the southern area.