Wednesday, December 17, 2014

R.I.P. Wendy Rene

From the Memphis Commercial Appeal:
Stax recording artist Wendy Rene has died at age 67. The singer and songwriter, whose real name was Mary Cross, died from complications of a stroke Tuesday morning. The news was confirmed by her family.
A homegrown talent on the Stax Records roster in the mid-’60s, the sweet-voiced Mrs. Cross was always seemingly a step shy of stardom during the era, but would be fondly remembered and rediscovered in later years by R&B fans, soul aficionados and a new generation of hip-hop artists.
In a statement released through the Soulsville Foundation, Stax co-founder Jim Stewart said, “I am truly saddened. I’ve thought about Wendy a lot through the years and regretted that due to a combination of reasons Stax Records was never able to help her to realize the highly successful career she deserved. Wendy was an incredibly talented artist and a gifted composer.”
Born Mary Frierson, Mrs. Cross began her career in a teen gospel singing group called the Drapels with her brother Johnny. In 1963, the group auditioned for Stax head Stewart, who offered them a deal. But Mrs. Cross, still in high school, was writing songs of her own, and she would be signed concurrently as a solo act as well. The company envisioned her as a replacement of sorts for its queen, Carla Thomas, who was taking a hiatus from recording while attending college. She first took the stage name Wendy Storm before adopting the more elegant sounding Wendy Rene, at the suggestion of Stax public relations woman Deanie Parker and fellow artist Otis Redding.
Recording with house backing band Booker T. & the MGs and getting writing assists from the group’s guitarist, Steve Cropper, Mrs. Cross released a succession of singles such as the moody “Give It What You Got” and the dance number “Bar-B-Q.” Her greatest work, however, was her debut ballad, “After Laughter (Comes Tears).” It captured the essence of Mrs. Cross’ youthful verve, becoming a minor hit.
“Mary’s style was very unique,” said Parker. “Her voice was unique and she was truly a good composer. She had that innocence in terms of her songwriting and also her delivery as a vocalist.
“She had all the ingredients: She wrote her own songs, had a distinctive style,” added Parker. “But she didn’t fit into the mold typically associated with the sound of Stax. So it was difficult to launch the kind of career she really did deserve. But she was enormously talented. ”
In 1967, newly married to Stax employee James Cross, Mrs. Cross decided to quit music to raise a family. For the next four decades, her musical ambitions were limited to singing in her church choir. But, eventually, the industry would rediscover Mrs. Cross and her songs.
At the dawn of the ’90s, “After Laughter” was famously sampled by the hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan for the track “Tearz” off their Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album; more than a decade later, the song was incorporated by Alicia Keys into “Where Do We Go From Here” on her platinum-selling 2007 album As I Am.
“A testament to her greatness as a composer is that artists continue to cover her songs and material,” said Parker. “She’s one of those Stax artists you have to dig for, but when you do find her, you get turned on to her music in a big way.”
In 2010, Mrs. Cross was finally coaxed back to the stage for the first time since the late-’60s, performing as part of the Ponderosa Stomp, a New Orleans music festival.
In early 2012, the Los Angeles-based label Light in the Attic released After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax & Volt Singles + Rarities 1964-1965, a comprehensive look at Mrs. Cross’ career, gathering all her studio efforts as well as several previously unreleased songs. The publicity-shy Mrs. Cross even made an appearance at a release party for the disc, at the Stax Museum that winter.
She is survived by her former husband James Cross, and their children Andre, Eric, Jacques, Rashad, Ivan, Jami. Memorial services will be held Monday at 11 a.m. at the Temple of Deliverance, 369 GE Patterson Avenue.