This musically gifted ballad singer, songwriter and violinist from Los Angeles was considered to be the female face of Motown when Mary Wells left the label in 1964. Holloway’s stay instead mixed equal elements of success and frustration into a brief Motown career, which included hits produced both in her hometown and in Detroit. Signed by Berry Gordy as a teenager, Holloway grew up fast at Hitsville, but with so many of her tracks left on the shelf, she departed after one fine album and a flurry of excellent singles that also made her a cult figure on the U.K.’s discerning Mod and Northern Soul circuits.
As a songwriter Holloway is best known for “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” a worldwide hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears that she originated at Motown in 1967.
- First Hit: “Every Little Bit Hurts”
- Biggest Hit: That one and also the R&B crossover “When I’m Gone”
- Top (and only) Album: Every Little Bit Hurts
- Career Highlight: Supporting The Beatles on their North American tour in August 1965, including opening for them at the record-breaking shows at New York’s Shea Stadium. The guys were Brenda Holloway fans
- Born in Atascadero, California, June 21, 1946 and raised in the Watts projects of Los Angeles, Brenda Holloway is blessed with classical music grounding, model-like beauty, and a voice with a dynamic range and soul depth, attributes that persuade Berry Gordy to snap her up as a 17-year old starlet.
- Brenda’s first Motown recordings take place under the auspices of the company’s early West Coast branch, with “Every Little Bit Hurts” already under her belt from her time as a session musician.
- Holloway’s debut album, named after the hit single, features songs written by Smokey Robinson, Berry Gordy, Clarence Paul and Frank Wilson, as well as by Brenda herself.
- Brenda’s 1967 R&B hit “Just Look What You’ve Done” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” (co-written by her with sister Patrice) pave the way for The Artistry of Brenda Holloway, a U.K. compilation of her debut LP and other, later material.
- After leaving Motown, Holloway becomes a go-to background session singer for Joe Cocker and Barry White, among others.
- Following her decision to retire from the studio business, Brenda returns with Brand New! in 1980.
- Perennially popular in Europe, Brenda also works with Jimmy Ruffin and Cliff Richard. Her 1999 album It’s A Woman’s World, recorded for the reactivated Volt label, receives considerable critical acclaim.
- Alicia Keys’ timely interpretation of “Every Little Bit Hurts” in 2005 reminds us of Brenda’s singular talent and she is well heard on the compilations 20th Century Masters and the U.K.-released The Motown Anthology in 2005.