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Freddie Hughes, famous soul singer of the East Bay, dies at the age of 79

While Freddie Hughes’ recording career reached its commercial peak with the 1968 hit “Send My Baby Back,” the Oakland singer’s impact on the East Bay soul and Bay Area music scene in general was far deeper than that.

Hughes, 79, died Tuesday in Kaiser Oakland from leukemia and COVID-19 complications, according to his son Derick Hughes, a former Tower of Power singer who toured for years with Roberta Flack.

Respected by his peers throughout the six decades he was a mainstay of the Bay Area music scene, Hughes played a central role in shaping the sound of the East Bay soul in an influential age. spread identified by the black vocalists in the rear of the church bringing fervent gospel music cadences to the secular scene.

An ostensibly gifted singer as a child, Hughes attended Castlemont High School in Oakland when he began acting professionally in various Oakland vocal groups in the mid-1950s. If talent alone leads to success. In the music business, he became a household name, said Oakland blues and R&B great Johnny Talbot, a close childhood friend who often collaborated with Hughes.

“I worked with Lou Rawls, Aretha and Marvin Gaye, and Freddie was on par with any of those singers,” says Talbot. “He has a unique and influential voice. When you mention singers from this area, Freddie has to be on top. He had such a gift. ”

Throughout her long career, Hughes has worked privately with stars such as Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Etta James, Ike and Tina Turner. As an artist recording under his own name, however, one obstacle he faced was the parallel career of Southern California R&B vocalist Fred Hughes, with whom he often mistook (attribution by Southern Californian R&B vocalist Fred Hughes). YouTube often distinguishes the two artists).

The fact that he’s recording too often doesn’t help either, though every appearance is amusing, like his stinging version of Paul Tillman Smith’s “Sharing” on the single Buddah 1977 Records of Vitamin E.

“Johnny Mathis and Freddie have two of the Bay Area’s most incredible vocals,” said drummer, songwriter and producer Tillman Smith, who featured Hughes on three songs featured on “The Sounds of Oakland,” a new album celebrating the legacy of East Bay soul and R&B.

“He was supposed to be a superstar. But we don’t have musicians or production infrastructure here. We don’t have Philadelphia International Records here. ”

Born on August 20, 1943, in Berkeley and raised in Oakland’s detached Harbor Homes project, Hughes has four siblings. Like many African-Americans attracted to the abundant work in the war industry, his parents came to the East Bay from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. His father, Fred W. Hughes, was a seafarer and pastor who helped found the Good Samaritan Church of God in Christ Jesus, and his mother, Lola Mae Anderson, was a singer and songwriter. missionary.

Oakland was flooded with young talent in the 1950s. In his youth, Hughes sang in a choir that included Betty Watson and Edwin Hawkins, who went on to direct the Edwin Hawkins Singers (the group that recorded the Gospel hit 1969 international “Oh Happy Day” at the Ephesian Church of God in Christ in Berkeley).

“Freddie sang lead vocals with the adult choir every Sunday at age 12,” recalls Johnny Talbot, who also sang in the Good Samaritan children’s choir with Hughes. “The way he was able to sing later was the way he was able to sing at the age of 12.”

Hughes made some of his early recordings for Compton-based Melotone Records in the late 1950s with a vocal quartet known as the Marketets. He continued to sing in various vocal groups and in 1961 began with The Four Rivers, a collaboration that caught the attention of Capitol Records in Los Angeles. But legal threats from the group’s original manager, who wanted to maintain control of the band’s recordings, put the matter into any potential record deal.

Back in the East Bay, Four Rivers became a home complex for Ray Dobard’s Berkeley-based Music City label, backing up artists like Richard Berry, James Brown and Big Mama Thornton. Looking to go their separate ways, Hughes and Four Rivers singer Ken Pleasants began performing as a duo known as The Music City Soul Brothers, recording several singles, such as “Let Our Love Go On” in 1965.

“Together we developed a style reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions,” Pleasants told British music journalist Opal Louis Nations. “We sang falsettos to the tune and harmony on the bridges and at halftime.”

Hughes scored his major domestic hit with 1968’s “Send My Baby Back,” begging to break into the R&B Top 20. same name. The 2010 re-release by Ace Records, a UK record label focused on hard-to-find soul music, includes 14 bonus tracks covering much of his 1960s production.

While international soul fans are paying hundreds of dollars for his 45 vintage photographs, Hughes has cut a modest number on the Bay Area scene. In recent decades, he has regularly held gigs at unassuming venues such as Berkeley’s Cheese Board, where he often performs with the Oakland blues band Kickin’ the Mule, and at the Mission bar District, Royal Cuckoo, where he performed with keyboardist Chris Burns.

Chris Siebert, Red Hot Skillet Lickers pianist and husband of singer Lavay Smith of the band Royal Cuckoo (owned by his brother Smith). Burns was holding a Hammond B-3 organ installed behind the bar shortly after Cuckoo opened in 2011 when Hughes, unannounced and unannounced, began singing without a mic and silenced the room. .

Siebert quickly found out who owned those beautiful tubes, and Hughes and Burns became a fixture in the Cuckoo rotation. “We fell in love with his voice,” Siebert said. “His version of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ is just as powerful as Sam Cooke. He’s a nice guy, and his delivery style reflects the culture he comes from within The Church of God In Christ. His voice brought tears to our eyes often.”

Hughes is survived by his brother, Wayne Hughes of Oakland; five children, Sonia Hughes Farmah of Hanford, Derick Hughes of Oakland, Derene Hughes Jones of Alameda, Lena Hughes, and Jelani Hughes; 23 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.

Plans are underway for a memorial service and concert in Hughes’ honor. Details will be announced soon.

Contact Andrew Gilbert at jazzscribe@aol.com.

https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/01/21/he-should-have-been-a-superstar-freddie-hughes-oakland-soul-singer-dies-at-79/ Freddie Hughes, famous soul singer of the East Bay, dies at the age of 79

Huynh Nguyen

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