THE ANN SEXTON STORY Compiled by David and Val Box 2015
With a lot of help from Ann Sexton, Brendan Greaves and Jason Perlmutter
Ann Sexton was born Mary Ann Sexton, on 6th February, 1950, in Greenville, South Carolina. She was raised by a family influenced by gospel music. As a child, Ann sang in her church choir and spent her adolescent and teenage years singing in school and winning talent shows.
On Ann’s first recorded cut, in her home town in 1966, she is the youthful yet accomplished vocalist billed as “Mary Sexton” on the 45-rpm rarity by Elijah (Hawthorne) & The Ebonies, titled “I Confess” (Gitana CR-3144). This early effort is an interesting snapshot of a soon-to-be regional sensation, just a few years before recording a number of hits that would form the bedrock of her future career.
Whilst singing with Elijah’s band, Ann met and married saxophonist Melvin Burton, who was also part of the band. Melvin was a tenor and alto sax player, who gained notoriety as a youth playing for Moses Dillard. Soon after, Ann and Melvin went on to form their own band called “Ann Sexton and the Masters of Soul”.
Whilst Ann was performing in Shelby, North Carolina, at the Washington Center, David Lee particularly recalls a striking twenty one year old woman named Mary Ann Burton singing “Who’s Lovin’ You?” He approached her to ask if she would record his song “You’re Letting Me Down”. “She was really gracious; she said - You want me to sing your song?” Encouraged, he promptly booked her a second engagement in Shelby the following week and promised to send her his demo of the song.
At this point in Ann’s story, many of you will be wondering - who is this guy, David Lee? Well, apart from seeing his name on the writers’ credits on Ann’s Impel SS-AS-103 release, I didn’t know much about him either. As this story unfolds it will become apparent that David Lee and the DJ and record producer John Richbourg, at radio WLAC in Nashville Tennessee, were key players in the development of Ann’s career.
At this stage, we must thank Brendan Greaves and Jason Perlmutter (Paradise of Bachelors) for initially independently, and later collectively, finding David Lee and uncovering and documenting the untold story of his fascinating career. Details of their websites are shown at the end of this article.
David M Lee was born in Shelby on the 3rd May 1936 to John Leo and Mary Leslie Lee. David married Nellena and they had four children. At fourteen, David began writing poetry, but soon switched to song writing. He also had a series of strenuous day jobs: starting at the age of eighteen, David worked eight years hauling coal and ice at the Morgan Street ice plant, and another two years at Burlington Mills. David worked at North Lake Country Club for thirty years, and held this job down right through the critical period while writing and recording with Ann Sexton; if that wasn’t enough, he spent evenings and weekends presiding over his record shop and audio supply store “Washington Sound” with help from his wife Nellena and the children.
Here is a quote from Brendan & Jason’s website: “David Lee was, over a course of three decades beginning in the late 1950’s, songwriter, musician, producer and entrepreneur. He released fourteen 45’s and two LP’s on his Impel, Washington Sound, and SCOP labels, run out of his Washington Sound record and audio supply shop in Shelby, North Carolina, outside Charlotte. He wrote most of the songs himself, including the devastating lament “You’re Letting Me Down”, which he recorded in 1971 with the then-unknown young Greenville, South Carolina, soul singer named Ann Sexton. As reissued by Nashville DJ “John R” Richbourg on his Seventy-Seven imprint, that record became the biggest hit of Mr. Lee’s long and impressive career, though hardly his sole accomplishment.”
Although Ann’s promised demo took a while to arrive, David’s original sounded a lot more country, but when she recorded it, it sounded a different thing altogether. “It sounded tremendous”, said David, after he recorded her version at Mark V Studios in Greenville, backed by her husband Melvin Burton’s band, the Masters of Soul. David gave her the stage name Mary Ann Sexton, which was then shortened to Ann Sexton.
In collaboration with Ann & Melvin, David wrote “You’ve Been Gone Too Long”, the B side that has been his most lucrative composition, and has kept Ann Sexton’s debut release on turntables around the globe in the years since. Impel SS-AS-103, David’s fifth record, was originally released in 1971; only 500 copies were produced and it sold respectably in North and South Carolina, and was played on jukeboxes and managed a degree of regional radio play.
While selling some Impel 45’s, including Ann’s single, to Mangold-Berto’s record one-stop in Charlotte, David learned that WLAC DJ John R was visiting, and asked for an introduction. David mustered the courage to play the famous DJ his new Ann Sexton record. After that first encounter, the two got along famously, and John R. agreed to give the record a spin on WLAC. John R. broadcast it for two to three weeks on his radio show, and then pulled the 45. David was so distraught that he drove to Nashville to confront the DJ, but John R was just waiting for David to sign a licensing and distribution contract.
John R. (born John Richbourg, August 20, 1910, Manning, South Carolina; died February 15, 1986, Nashville, Tennessee) was a radio disc jockey who attained fame through the 50’s to 70’s for playing R&B music on Nashville radio station WLAC. He was also a notable record producer and artist manager. WLAC first assigned Richbourg to the news desk, but it wasn’t long before he had a regular programme playing artists such as Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, artists heard on specialty juke boxes and in mostly Southern markets after hours if at all on radio. Although some white listeners protested, black audiences responded with enthusiasm and began to write letters to him, but many misspelled his surname, so John shortened his on-the-air name to “John R.” One of the official sponsors for WLAC was Ernie’s Record Mart, owned by a record label specialising in recording local Nashville R&B acts. In mid 1965, Fred Foster of Sound Stage Seven records struck a deal with John, who became the head of A&R for the label. From this point on, the label was strictly a soul/R&B label and almost all the label’s output was produced by John under his banner JR Enterprises. John brought Joe Simons to the label in 1966, many other soul artists followed. John produced over 100 singles for Sound Stage Seven between 1965 and 1970. Other notable artists produced by John during the 1970’s, included Jackey Beavers and Ann Sexton. In 1976 and 1977, Ann charted on the lower rungs of the R&B charts with two of John’s productions, including ”I’m His Wife”. These would be John’s last hit records as a producer, though he continued recording and producing R&B and soul acts to the end of his life.
The Impel release was reissued in two editions of John R’s Seventy-Seven label, and sold more than 90,000 copies in the 70’s, and so began a productive working relationship between David Lee and John R, which gave Ann the recognition she deserved, and she was now signed to Seventy-Seven records.
The first reissue was on the pale yellow original Seventy-Seven label, and then on the slightly later multi-coloured repress; also white demos were issued for promotion purposes.
The B side “You’ve Been Gone Too Long”, was played as a new import release at Blackpool Mecca, and was in short supply in the UK. This was soon rectified when record dealer, Garry Cape, contacted John R. and arranged to have additional copies pressed up using the multi-coloured label design, to satisfy the demand.
Being a record label anorak, I did notice that the Impel release has Ann & Melvin’s surname spelt incorrectly in the writers’ credits section, it states Benton not Burton, also the publishing is credited to Active Music – 548 NE 52 St. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. (ASCAP) on the A side, but 42 St. on the flip - the company must have owned the whole neighbourhood!! The publishing credits changed to Three Cheers Music when issued on Seventy-Seven but they didn’t correct the writers surname spelling until the multi coloured release. Well, I thought that was interesting!
Back to the story.
David Lee travelled to Memphis with Ann and Melvin and John R, to produce three additional records, including the David Lee composition “Love, Love, Love (I Want To Be Loved)” and four of Melvin and Ann’s compositions. With her records “flying off the shelves”, Ann was now moving up, her recording of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” making the top 50 on the R&B charts in 1973. “Love, Love, Love” was gaining popularity and Ann and David Lee were ready for a national breakthrough. Sadly their relationship soured after Ann and Melvin didn’t show for a Johnson City, Tennessee show David had booked; it was clear the band wouldn’t make the show – they were in Texas. “Young people wanted to see her real bad; they were screaming and hollering for ‘You’re Letting Me Down” – Ann was poorly managed by Melvin, John R lost interest as a result, and Ann’s career took a knock.
Ann would be featured on a number of 45’s for John R’s labels, as well as the mid-70’s album “Loving You, Loving Me” (Seventy-Seven 77-107), that pulled together all of her cuts up to that point for John R. and David Lee. Another memorable David Lee penned ballad is “Love, Love, Love (I Want to be Loved)”, b/w “You’re Losing Me”, a healthy dose of mid-tempo funk penned by Ann and Melvin, released together on Seventy-Seven 900 in 1974.
By 1977, John R. was recording Ann’s version of songs written by southern soul singer/songwriter Frank O (Johnson), at Clayton Ivey’s Wishbone Studio in Muscle Shoals. In 1978 she released her second studio album in Nashville, Tennessee, titled “The Beginning” on Sound Stage Seven SS1500. This was a classic album, my personal favourite, because it shows the growth and maturity in Ann’s voice, as heard on ballads like “Be Serious” and other tracks like “Who’s Gonna Love You” and “I Had A Fight With Love”. Ann only released one single from the album – “I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend)”, was the flip to “You Got To Use What You Got”, on Sound Stage Seven 45-2504. This latter track was not included on the album, but was written by T. Woodford & C. Ivey, so most probably recorded at the same session. This became another favourite on the dance floor in the UK and Europe. It seems at this stage, David Lee was no longer involved with Ann’s productions, but still to this day he credits her with his success and speaks glowingly of her talent, her modesty, and her grace: “Lord, she was a real artist, I’m proud that I met her.” Ann’s husband Melvin, along with Clifford Curry, received special thanks on “The Beginning” album sleeve notes for their constructive ideas and suggestions, and Terry Woodford, Gwen Owens, Cathy Carson, and Ava Aldridge for their expert background vocals.
After her second album, Ann decided to leave the soul music industry and move to New York. Looking to escape the stressful politics of the music industry, she embraced a career change. Her desire to help the community inspired her to become a school teacher.
After 20 years of outstanding service, Ann retired from the Board of Education in January 2010. She had committed a big part of her life to teaching special needs students. Her co-worker, Frank J. Degonnaro, described her as the most charming, wonderfully kind person you’ll ever meet. While working at school, Ann did not inform anyone of her previous career as a recording artist. She did, however, perform at the school, entertaining the crowd with her soul singing style. The students and staff showed their appreciation of Ann, and threw her a surprise retirement party.
In 2007, after educating kids for twenty years, she performed again in Germany at the Baltic Soul weekender. Since that time, Ann has performed with Roy Ayers, Marva Whitney, Gloria Scott, Garland Green, Keni Burke, and many other artists.
In 2010, Ann went back into the recording studio to cut Ferry Ultra’s “Rising Up”. Later that year, she reunited with David Lee in Shelby, North Carolina, and performed at the Cleveland County Arts Festival, with a number of David’s original recording artists. I believe Ann is currently in the studio with Rob Hardt and Sharon Phillips working on her comeback CD.
Above is the original sign for the Washington Sound record store, the home of Impel records. Below shows David Lee displaying his North Carolina Folklore Society’s Brown-Hudson Award with Jason Perlmutter and Brendan Greaves.
(Paradise of Bachelors)
During a recording span of some six years, if we leave out the Gitana release which was around 1966/67, from 1971 through 1977 Ann Sexton’s output was prolific. A singer whose range and talents could match most soulstresses south of the Mason-Dixon line, she was not always blessed with the most stunning material. But on a strong ballad she could really let it rip. Whether singing her own material or interpreting someone else’s songs, she was more than just another R&B singer. It is an indictment of American music tastes (black or white) that she never achieved the degree of commercial success she rightly deserved. Well, she’s now back in the music business, and back on the stage performing.
Well, that’s the end of the article, but not the end of the story. Ann will be on stage at the Wilton Ballroom on Saturday 14th November 2015 singing in front of some of the most knowledgeable and appreciative soul fans in the UK. Ann will be supported by our incredible full eight piece band PUSH, including background vocalists
Let’s give Ann a welcome she will never forget, with a Wilton capacity crowd that, no doubt, will know more about Ann’s recording career than she can probably remember herself. Ann’s sets will include her well known songs from the 70’s, deep and uptempo classics, something to suit everyone’s taste.
We have asked Ann to perform something extra special, her very first recording that she cut way back in 1967. She was the featured vocalist (Mary Sexton) with Elijah and the Ebonies on the song “I Confess”, a great balled cut in her home town of Greenville SC. We are so privileged that Ann has agreed to perform this song onstage at the Wilton for the very first time in Europe since recording the song all those years ago. To make sure we have covered all the bases, Ann will be performing her lastest 2010 release “Rising Up”, a fantastic uptempo soulful house track.
Ann will win your hearts in the way she soulfully sing the slower tunes, whilst at the same have you jumping all over when she ups the tempo. Once again another, not to be missed, soulful night with a wonderful soulful lady - Ann Sexton.
Also on the night we will playing the very best 60’s-70’s and Crossover from our guest DJ’s Arthur Fenn and Mike Charlton along with residents Boxy & Mouse.
Tickets are available at £20.00, at http://www.wheatsheaf.com/allnighter by paypal or by contacting Boxy on 01924 894555 or Mouse on 07717 338009. Admission OTD is £23.00 if not sold out.
Acknowledgements: To Ann Sexton for making this possible.
Thank you, to Brendan Greaves and Jason Perlmutter (Paradise of Bachelors) - for your help and kind permission to copy information and pictures from your research on David Lee for my article. http://www.paradiseofbachelors.com & http://www.carolinasoul.org
Dave Rimmer (For additional discography info.) http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net
Val Box for her typing skill and putting up with my tantrums....
ANN SEXTON DISCOGRAPHY
Elijah (Hawthorne) & The Ebonies featuring Mary Sexton:
Gitana CR 3144 - “I Confess / Get Out Of My Life Girl” - 1967
Ann Sexton and the Masters of Soul:
Impel SS-AS-103 - “You’re Letting Me Down / You’ve Been Gone Too Long” - 1971
Ann Sexton and the Soul Masters:
Seventy 7 77-104 (Plain Yellow) - “You’re Letting Me Down / You’ve Been Gone Too Long” - 1972
Seventy - Seven 77-104 (Multicolour) - “You’re Letting Me Down / You’ve Been Gone Too Long” - 1972
Seventy - Seven 77-114 – “Come Back Home (I Know I Did You Wrong) / I Still Love You” – 1972
Seventy - Seven 77-125 - “It’s All Over But The Shouting / Have A Little Mercy” - 1973
Seventy - Seven 77-133 - “You’re Gonna Miss Me / You’re Losing Me” - 1973
Seventy - Seven 77-138 - “If I Work My Thing On You / Lovin’ You, Lovin’ Me - 1973
Seventy - Seven SV-900 - “Love, Love, Love / You’re Losing Me” - 1974
Seventy - Seven SV-907 - “You Can’t Win / Lets Huddle Up, Lets Cuddle Up” - 1975
Dash 5019 - “Lovin’ You, Lovin Me / If I Work My Thing On You” - 1975
Sound Plus SP-2123 - “If I Work My Thing On You / Loving You, Loving You - 1976
Monument 225 - “Sugar Daddy / I Want To Be Loved” - 1976
Sound Stage Seven 45-2504 - “You Got To Use What You Got / I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend)” - 1977
Ann Sexton & The Baltic Soul Orchestra / Gloria Lynne & The Baltic Soul Orchestra
Unique 156 - “You’re Losing Me / Help Me Off This Merry-Go-Round” - 2009 (German release)
Ferry Ultra - Featuring, Ann Sexton (12inch)
Peppermint Jam PJM-50143 - “Rising Up” + two other versions - 2010
Seventy - Seven 77-107 - “Loving You, Loving Me” - 1973 Also on Vivid Sound -VS-7003 - 1978 (Japan)
Tracks: You’re Letting Me Down (3:00) / You’ve Been Gone Too Long (2:15) / Come Back Home (2:20) / I Still Love You (2:48) / Have A Little Mercy (2:52) / It’s All Over But The Shouting (3:32) / You’re Gonna Miss Me (3:03) / You’re Losing Me (2:16) / Love, Love, Love (3:45) / Keep On Holding On (3:42) / Let’s Huddle Up And Cuddle Up (2:25) / Loving You, Loving Me (3:32)
Sound Stage Seven SS1500 - “The Beginning” - 1977 - Also on Soul Brother 1000001 - 2003 (UK)
Tracks: I Had A Fight With Love (3:47) / I’m Is Wife (You’re Just A Friend) (2:56) / Who’s Gonna Love You (3:01)
You Can’t Lose With The Stuff I Use (4:40) / Color My World Blue (2:46) / Be Serious (3:58) / I Want To Be Loved (3:12) / Sugar Daddy (4:01) / You’ve Been Doing Me Wrong For So Long (2:56)
Charly R&B CRB 1143 - “Love Trials” - 1986 (UK)
Tracks: I Want To Be Loved / I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend) / Who’s Gonna Love You / I Had A Fight With Love / Be Serious / Color My World Blue / You’ve Been Doing Me Wrong For So Long / Have A little Mercy / Lovin You, Loving Me / Love, Love, Love / Come Back Home / Keep On Holding On / You’re Letting Me Down / You’re Gonna Miss Me
Soul Brother SBCB 20 - “Anthology” - 2004 (UK)
Tracks: You’ve Been Gone Too Long (2:21) / You Got To Use What You Got (2:29) / Color My World Blue (2:44) / You Can’t Lose With The Stuff I Use (4:37) / I Had A Fight With Love (3:42 / I Still Love You (2:46) / You’re Losing Me 92:17) / It’s All Over But The Shouting (3:31) / Come Back Home (2:19) / Keep On Holding On (3:41) / I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend) (2:55) / You’ve Been Doing Me Wrong For So Long (2:54)
Soul Brother SBPJ 20 - “Anthology” - 2004 (UK)
Tracks: As above plus the following: Who’s Gonna Love You (3:00) / Let’s Huddle Up And Cuddle Up (2:25)
/ Love, Love, Love (I Want To Be Loved) (3:45) / I Want To Be Loved (3:10) / Be Serious (3:56) / Loving You Loving Me (3:39) / You’re Letting Me Down (2:59) / You’re Gonna Miss Me (3:02) / Have A Little Mercy (2:47) / Sugar Daddy (4:01)