HAWKINS (1938 - 2006)
Jennell Hawkins, who recorded on several Los Angeles R&B labels
and scored a hit on the pop charts in 1961 with 'Moments To Remember',
has died after a long illness following a stroke.
A student at Jefferson and Freemont High Schools, Jennell gained
her first singing experience with Ray Brewster, Bill Piper and Marc
Gordon in the Fidelitones. (The group never recorded, but Gordon
eventually became a successful producer of acts like the Fifth Dimension.)
While at school, Jennell met Richard Berry (of 'Louie, Louie' fame).
"I was in the tenth grade, Richard was in the eleventh,"
she recalled in a 1986 interview. "We were in music class together.
Richard was a quiet, deep-spoken young man who was into writing.
I was a church musician, he was an R&B musician. We sort of
stuck together. Everyone else was into jazz and said we'd never
go any further than high school. We just laughed because we were
already gigging at the Shrine Auditorium and places like that."
One day early in 1954 Berry told Jennell he was going to the studio
and asked her if she wanted to accompany him. "He didn't say
anything about recording. We met [arranger] Maxwell Davis and ended
up recording that same afternoon," she recalled. The result
was 'Each Step', which was released by Flair Records under the monicker
Ricky & Jennell.
The experience of making a record helped Jennell establish herself
in local music circles. A reluctant vocalist, she preferred playing
the piano and organ, so when Berry asked her to join Fanita Barrett,
Gloria Jones and Annette Williams in the Dreamers, the group with
which he regularly recorded, she initially declined. Her piano,
however, was heard on 'My Aching Heart', a 1955 release on Flip
Records by the Flippers. Jennell subsequently joined the Dreamers
on the same label for 'Since You've Been Gone', on which she sang
Also during 1955-56, she teamed with Mary Ann Miles, Dora Lee Pickett
and Darlene Powell in the Combonettes, who recorded three singles
for Jake Porter's Combo label, including their best-known side,
'Hi Diddle Diddle'.
As a solo vocalist, Jennell enjoyed her biggest success late in
1961 with the Richard Berry-written tune 'Moments To Remember' on
Titanic, which was reissued as 'Moments' on Amazon, a label owned
by the DJ Rudy Harvey. This led to the release of two LPs, the jazzy
'The Many Moods Of Jenny' and the more rocking 'Moments To Remember',
each album containing very differently arranged versions of her
hit song. Around the same time, Flip re-released 'Since You've Been
Gone' as Jennell Hawkins and the Dreamers.
Another single, her version of Barrett Strong's 'Money (That's
What I Want)', reached the R&B chart in 1962. Jennell also released
'In The Groove' on Harvey's Azuza label, but his shady business
practices (which may well have ultimately led to his unsolved murder)
left her disillusioned with the recording industry and she quit
the business, dedicating herself to her marriage and the church.
For many years she drove a hearse for several funeral homes and
played the organ at funerals.
In recent years she appeared regularly at clubs, most notably with
Big Jay McNeely, and the Jennell Hawkins Sextet supported Johnnie
Morrisette on his recording of 'I'm Hungry', a popular funk item.
In 2002 she performed with the Dreamers at a Los Angeles Doo Wop
Society show. Jennell Hawkins was being honoured by L.A.'s mayor,
Antonio Villaraigosa, along with Etta James, Esther Phillips and
others, at a Legends of Central Avenue celebration at City Hall
on the day she died.
combination of articles by Jim Dawson in Right Track [#131, 11/2006]
and by Steve Propes in his book L.A. R&B Vocal Groups [Big Nickel
Publications, 2001]. Picture courtesy of Peter Gibbon/Ace Records.)