Betty Harris is one of the most respected figures in Soul music, for the connoisseurs at least, as she is unknown to the broader public. Most of that respect she gained on the basis of the single featured here today. Her version of "Cry to Me" is an absolute triumph. The slow dragged out church vocals betray a deep grief while she offers her comfort to the broken hearted. Betty Harris has been where disappointed in love are, her wounds never quite healed, sharing in a common pain. Recorded in 1963 for the Jubilee label, "Cry to Me" proved to be the template to which legends as Etta James and Aretha Franklin modeled their vocals. Though the song charted in an up-tempo version for Solomon Burke just a year before, Betty Harris managed to score her biggest hit with "Cry to Me", charting #23 in the Pop charts. It was her version that the Stones picked up, which subsequently led to the renditions done by Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen. The frail Betty really managed to eclipse the 200 pound Burke, no mean achievement. As Harris remembered in 2004 this tour the force took a mere 3 takes to get on wax.
After recording a few more sides for Jubilee Harris would go on to record with the legendary Allen Toussaint on Sansu records. It was Toussaint who dubbed her the 'Soul Queen of New Orleans', even though she never lived in the city. Harris was born in Orlando. Typical for her status as forgotten Soul queen, biographers never got her birth date right. Most commonly the date's pegged at either '41 or '43, Betty Harris however is pretty sure she was born in '39. Though her Sansu sides cemented her status for the connoisseurs, she was never able to repeat the success of that first single. Toussaint coached Harris into a more funky and aggressive style, brilliant as those singles often were, it is the ballad material where Harris really shines. "Cry to Me" is soul supreme, often rivaled but never beaten. Springsteen performed this gem once on stage with Dr Zoom and the Sonic Boom. He did sound check the song in 1975 but never did play it on stage. Luckily this E-Steet version was captured on tape, though I suspect through the door as the recording is more than just a tad muddy.
Read an excellent full biography on Funky 16 Corners.
"Cry to Me" is available on Lost Soul Queen