It’s the time of year when schools are about to give their students some freedom for a couple of weeks between fall and spring classes, and there’s one particular school which I’ve been thinking about lately. Booker T. Washington High School has continually popped up in my research of Georgia Soul music, time and time again. Among the school’s graduates, I have been able to identify The Pips, The Fabulous Denos, The Mighty Hannibal, Eula Cooper, Tee Fletcher, Dwight Franklin and the subject of today’s entry, The Ravenettes. Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with Shirlene King, who shared some of her memories of the group.
Shirlene, Willie Mae, Linda and Gwendolyn were all friends at Booker T. Washington High and in the graduating class of 1965. Influenced by the popular groups of the day, the gals formed their own singing group, The Ravenettes. Linda’s father served as the group’s manager, and got them into a talent at the Royal Peacock. Zilla Mays was the host of the talent show, and it was broadcast on WAOK, where Zilla Mays was one of the more popular DJs.
Zilla Mays liked The Ravenettes, and introduced them to Bill Moon, who had a studio in Marietta and a close relationship with Hank Moore, the saxophone player and band leader for Hank Ballard & the Midnighters. While the Midnighters were from Detroit, they were constantly on the road and spent a fair amount of time in Atlanta to the point where they had a standing hotel room at the Royal Hotel through the help of Gorgeous George. Judging by ads in back issues of the Atlanta Daily World, one could come away with the thought that the Midnighters were actually from Atlanta.
Bill Moon had already released a 45 by Hank Moore, and employed him to put together a band to record with The Ravenettes. In 1965, The Ravenettes debut 45 was released. “Misery” b/w “Too Young To Know” didn’t sell well enough to get the group known outside of Atlanta, but did receive airplay on WAOK and WERD. Bill Moon’s studio was likely not up to the highest standards of the day, and while the songs aren’t bad, the quality of the recording is sub-standard, even for the era.
Wendell Parker heard enough of this 45 to understand that the gals had a lot of talent, and he brought them into the superior Master Sound studio in 1966 to record their second 45 for his Shurfine label. With St. John & the Cardinals as the backing band, “Talk About Soul” b/w “Since Youv’e Been Gone” was released on Shurfine, and licensed to Josie Records, with whom Parker had a close relationship, for national distribution in December, 1966. This 45 certainly sounded better and received better distribution and airplay, but didn’t sell enough to be considered a hit.
The Ravenettes pushed forward for a little while longer, but real life soon caught up with them. Gwendolyn made the decision to leave the group to go to college, and Linda left the group to marry Gwendolyn’s brother. Willie Mae and Shirlene made attempts to continue on as a duo, though they never again recorded together. They did manage an appearance on local TV personality Don Barber’s variety show, on which they performed their version of The Olympics’ hit “Good Lovin’”. Without much wind in their sails, Willie Mae and Shirlene put The Ravenettes to sleep in 1969.
Following The Ravenettes, Shirlene continued singing as a solo act in local night clubs, and toured four roughly a year and a half as a backup singer for James Brown. Brown also employed Shirlene as a singer and dancer on his short lived answer to “Soul Train”, which he called “Future Shock”, taped in the studios that would become TBS.
In 1976, Shirlene made her long awaited return to the recording studio with the Reflection of Truth Band for her “Super Stuff” 45 for the HoMark label, which Marshall Mauldin ran out of the back of an electronics shop in Collier Heights. This 45 has previously been featured on the Georgia Soul blog.
These days, Shirlene works for a Christian Missionary and splits her time between Atlanta and her mission work, primarily in Florida. She recorded a self-produced gospel album in 1987, about which I haven’t yet been able to collect any information, whatsoever.