History of a Mowtown Era Icon and Trendsetter
Betty (Crews) Harris was born in Orlando, Florida in 1939, to Reverend Rufus Crews and Reverend Winifred Crews. Before she turned 4, Betty’s family moved to Alabama. In addition to being a minister, Betty’s father was also a booking agent for black gospel singers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sam Cooke, and The Blind Boys of Alabama. The influences of singing in a church choir, hearing and meeting successful musicians from her father’s business, and listening to secular rhythm and blues music on the radio made her realize that singing was her passion. To achieve that dream, she needed to leave Alabama and the watchful eyes of her parents. At 17, she spotted a help wanted ad for a job in New Jersey, and she was on her way!
Betty’s intuition about her need to get to the big city turned out to be right, as it led to one break after another. At one of her nightclub performances, she was spotted by the producer Zelma “Zell” Sanders. In 1958, Zell Sanders had Betty record her first song, “Like Later Baby”, as the lead singer of the girl group, The Hearts. Two years later she met R&B singer Mabel Louise Smith (aka Big Maybelle). Big Maybelle took Betty under her wing and inspired her to embrace her own style. She mentored Betty by bringing her along on her nationwide tour. Maybelle’s cross-country mentoring–and some good luck–brought Betty to the next turning point in her career.
While in New York, Betty met songwriter/producer Bert Berns. Bert had the unique ability to match the right musicians, with the right music, at the right time. Betty had a vision of how she would like to sing the song “Cry To Me” which had been released by Solomon Burke only one year earlier. When she did an impromptu a cappella performance of her slowed-down version for Bert, he immediately understood her vision and they recorded the song the following week. “Cry To Me” was a big hit on both the Pop and R&B Charts, and immediately brought Betty onto the national music scene. Bert and Betty went on to make several more singles together, including “It’s Dark Outside” and “His Kiss.”
Betty’s next musical chapter would be with New Orleans hitmaker, Allen Toussaint. Together, they made more than 20 recordings between 1965 and 1969. Due to this collaboration, Betty soon became well-known as a New Orleans-style soul singer and was a popular draw in soul circles. Many of her songs are considered soul standards and are played and sold around the world.
Betty currently resides in Middletown, Connecticut, and continues to perform both nationally and internationally.
FAST FORWARD TO THE 2020’s
Betty Harris is an iconic American soul singer. Her recording career in the 1960s produced three Top 10 & Top 20 hit singles that made the U.S. Billboard R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts: “Cry to Me” (1963), “His Kiss” (1964) and “Nearer to You” (1967). However, her reputation among soul music connoisseurs far exceeds her commercial success of the 1960s, and her recordings for the Jubilee and Sansu record labels are not only highly sought after in the 2000s by fans of Southern Soul, Northern Soul, and Deep Soul, but have been sampled to create new records and re-interpretations by artists including Christina Aguilera (2006’s “Understand”). However, as her newfound popularity in the dance scene has skyrocketed, many European dance producers have been flooding the dance market with new tracks sampling Ms. Harris, most without permission, attempts to license and reimburse her in any way, and ALL without even giving her credit as the vocal sample. So what does an icon do? At the suggestion of legendary Swedish DJ/Producer StoneBridge who provides the releases premiere remix, she approaches America’s #1 LGBTQAI+ dance label to release an infectious and electrifying dance update to her 1968 #1 single “Show Me”. But first, a little backstory.
In 1964, Betty Harris switched record labels to Sansu, a New Orleans label, where she was produced by Allen Toussaint. Her recording with Sansu produced ten singles. Of those, only “Nearer to You”, an atmospheric, dramatic soul ballad, now considered one of the milestones of deep soul, achieved U.S. national chart success on Billboard. However, practically all of her recordings for Sansu, uptempo tunes and ballads alike, are considered prime specimens of the classic soul era.
Harris retired from performing in 1970 to raise a family. Without her permission or even a discussion, All of the Sansu recordings were compiled into an album released in the UK (but not the U.S.) in 1969, called Soul Perfection, an album which, in its vinyl format, although not extremely rare, commands relatively high prices of $200 to $300 today. A comprehensive CD compilation of Harris’s recordings, titled Soul Perfection Plus, was released in 1999 by the UK re-release label, West Side.
In 2005, Harris returned to the music industry after a long absence. Betty has been in a decades-long copyright battle over the ownership of her music. Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn never paid her the royalties due her, and she now owns the sound recording copyrights for all the songs she recorded with Sansu, including “Nearer to You” and “Show Me.”
Harris has made several public appearances in the U.S. and Europe, including the 2007 Porretta Soul Festival in Italy. And in March of 2013, Harris was part of a massive lineup of live artists for Willie Nelson’s 11th annual Luck Reunion. The event Luck, Antone’s and Gibson Presents: Strange Things Happening: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, 1915-1973 capped off the week of events at Luck on Sunday, March 19th with a Gospel Brunch like no other. A thoughtful and artist-packed tribute to the legendary Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the original “Soul Sister” who made an indelible impact on gospel and soul music. Line up includes The Binky Griptite Orchestra, with special guests Abraham Alexander, Amythyst Kiah, Betty Harris, Ruthie Foster, Valerie June, and many more.
In late 2022, Harris approached Sten Hallström, the legendary Swedish DJ, label owner, and Record Producer better known as StoneBridge. The man behind such iconic hit remixes as 1993’s “Show Me Love” by Robin S, 2008’s Grammy Nominated Remix of “Closer” by Ne-Yo, “Gimme More” by Britney Spears, and his own Top 10 worldwide hits “Put ‘Em High”, “Take Me Away” and “Too Late” was approached by Harris to remix her 1968 single “Show Me” into a modern dance track. From there, Harris reached out to American DJ, Producer, and Swishcraft Music label owner Matt Consola to remix, package, and release “Show Me” in June 2023. The release will include StoneBridge, Matt Consola, and Dave Matthias Remixes.
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